Selected Medicines in Development for Cancer Backgrounder

Backgrounder: Selected Medicines in Development for Cancer

Interfering with Cancer Cell Metabolism – Glucose plays an important role in the growth of cancer cells and has been used for detection purposes in PET imaging.  Now, researchers are studying ways to disrupt the way cancer cells metabolize glucose in an effort to deprive them of energy for growth. One medicine in development for pancreatic cancer – which affects more than 43,000 Americans each year – disrupts the biochemical alterations in the conversion of glucose to energy that occurs in many, if not all, types of cancer cells.  The medicine is designed to disrupt the alteration and its link to a pathway controlling cancer cell growth, development and death.

Using Combined Immunotherapy to Increase Cancer Cell Death – Cancer of the head and neck include cancers of the oral cavity, salivary glands, sinuses and nasal cavity, pharynx, larynx and lymph nodes of the upper neck area.  According to the National Cancer Institute, these cancers account for approximately 3 to 5 percent of all cancers in the United States and are more common in men and in people over the age of 50. One potential medicine in development for head and neck cancer is a first-in-class immunotherapy that combines active immunity (prompting immune cells in the body to fight the cancer) and passive immunity (providing antibodies from outside the body to destroy cancer cells).

Blocking Mutated Receptors in Cancer Cells – Leukemia is a form of cancer in which abnormal white blood cells take over the body’s bone marrow and prevent it from making enough normal blood cells (white, red and platelets), leaving the patient highly susceptible to serious infections, anemia and bleeding. Each year, more than 47,000 Americans are diagnosed with some form of leukemia and more than 23,000 die. One medicine in development for this cancer has the potential to block activation of the FLT-3 cell receptor, mutated in about one-third of all patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML).  Activation of this receptor by different types of mutations appears to play an important role in tumor cell proliferation, resistance to apoptosis (cell death), and prevention of normal cell development.

Alerting the Immune System to Fight Cancer – Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer.  More than 76,000 Americans are diagnosed with the disease each year, and more than 9,000 die.  A potential new DNA-based immunotherapy targets late-stage metastatic melanoma.  The therapy is designed to stimulate both innate and adaptive immune responses in primary and metastatic tumors. It alerts the immune system to recognize and destroy tumor cells, inducing a powerful immune response.

Blocking Regulation of Key Cellular Processes – Sarcomas are a group of aggressive cancers of the body’s connective tissue.  They include two forms – bone and soft tissue sarcomas.  There are more than 11,000 new cases of soft tissue sarcomas are diagnosed each year in the United States and nearly 4,000 patients die from the disease.  Bone sarcomas are rare, with more than 2,800 new cases and 1,400 deaths each year.  A potential medicine in development for both types of sarcoma is an inhibitor of mTOR, a protein that regulates important cellular processes, such as protein biosynthesis, cell proliferation, and cell cycle progression and survival.

Targeting Drug Delivery with Nanoparticles – A potential treatment in development is a nanoparticle containing the anti-cancer medicine docetaxel that is targeted to prostate-specific membrane antigen, a molecule expressed on the surface of cancer cells and on new blood vessels that feed a wide array of solid tumors. Nanoparticles concentrate the delivery of the anti-cancer agent at the specific disease site, increasing efficacy while reducing systemic exposure and side effects.

Selectively Blocking Cancer Cell Division – Ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system, with more than 15,000 each year.  A potential first-in-class medicine in development works by selectively inhibiting the polo-like kinase-1 (PLK-1), an enzyme crucial for cell division.  PLK-1 is expressed in proliferating cells and most tumors.  Inhibiting its activity disrupts cell division, which induces cell death and reduces cancer growth. 

Selectively Inhibiting Multiple Myeloma Cell Proliferation – Multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow plasma cells, affects more than 21,000 Americans each year.  A potential first-in class medicine in development is a highly selective proteasome inhibitor.  This compound irreversibly inhibits a specific subunit of the proteasome with minimal activity on other proteases, including those that may cause some of the side effects of current drug treatments, such as neutropenia, thrombocytopenia and peripheral neuropathy.

* From Medicines in Development for Cancer 2012, PhRMA, May 2012.  Note:  All facts and figures are from the American Cancer Society, except where noted in the text.

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