Today's Research Leading to Tomorrow's Solutions

Today's Research Leading to Tomorrow's Solutions

08.02.12 | By

Recent basic research into possible cancer stem cells may be bearing fruit. Some scientist have postulated that some sort of cancer stem cell may exist and that helps explain how a cancer revives after intensive treatments - like radiation or chemotherapy - designed to eliminate it. New research conducted by three independent teams appears to confirm the existence of these "master builder" cells. If the research continues to hold up, the discovery could one day lead to new, better ways of attacking and beating cancer.

This is a story that illustrates both the dynamism of medical research as well as the translational challenge. IF the research holds-up - and let's be realistic, it may be a big IF - it will still take many years and a lot of resources to translate these findings into potential new therapies and treatments. While that reality may mute some of the excitement that generally follows the announcement of a potential scientific or medical breakthrough, it is critical to keep in mind. There is a lot of work to be done between discovering a new biological mechanism - like the potential existence of cancer "master builder cells" - and turning that knowledge into an effective medicine.

After a new discovery or idea for a potential medicine, it takes anywhere from 10 to 15 years to bring any resulting new medicine to patients. And, the path from discovery to new medicine is hardly straight. Only one of every 5,000 to 10,000 compounds researched as a potential medicine is ever approved by the FDA for patient use.

The point is that reports like this give both needed hope and indicate important progress being made in our understanding of cancer. But research - and the economic, policy and scientific conditions that foster and promote research - is critical to developing new medicines.

A final point: this story also represents a good example of the difference between basic research and translating that research into a potential new medicine. The work on the potential of cancer stem cells to fuel the disease is basic medical research - the kind often brilliantly conducted by universities and government supported labs. However, those labs aren't designed, equipped or funded to turn such discoveries into new therapies. That is what the biopharmaceutical research industry does and has done so well over the years -- over 300 new medicines introduced over the last decade alone to fight a wide-range of conditions.

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