AACR report: Now is the time to invest in cancer research

September 16, 2014 | by Nicole White

Advances in cancer treatment, built on discoveries made in the laboratory then brought to the bedside, have phenomenally changed the reality of living with a cancer diagnosis. More than any other time in history, people diagnosed with cancer are more likely to survive and to enjoy a high quality of life.

Scientist in laboratory With new drugs approved and new scientific breakthroughs, the chances of surviving cancer have never been higher. Now is the time to keep investing in cancer research.

However, much work remains to be done. On average, one American will die of cancer every minute of every day this year, according to the American Association for Cancer Research, which today released its annual Cancer Progress Report.  Following a year that saw six new cancer drugs approved, an estimated 14.5 million cancer survivors living in the United States, and considerable research breakthroughs, now is the time to continue fueling lifesaving cancer research through investment in the National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute and other organizations and agencies devoted to cancer research.

While gains in cancer research have been impressive, the pace of progress has been slowed due to years of budget cuts at the NIH and NCI.

“Incredible strides have been made in advancing our understanding, enhancing prevention and improving therapy of cancer,” said Steven Rosen, M.D., provost and chief scientific officer at City of Hope and director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center. “To maintain momentum with the ultimate goal of maximizing cure of these devastating diseases, the necessary funds must be available.”

According to the report:

•    Nearly 14.5 million cancer survivors are alive today in the United States, and almost 380,000 of them received their cancer diagnoses as children or adolescents. •    Between Aug. 1, 2013, and July 31, 2014, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved six new anticancer therapeutics and new uses for five previously approved anticancer therapeutics. •    During the same period, two imaging agents received new cancer-related FDA approvals, as did a previously approved screening test. •    Research discoveries continue to advance precision medicine: Five of the six new anticancer therapeutics are molecularly targeted agents. •    Patients with some types of cancer have three or more molecularly targeted treatment options, should their cancer recur or become resistant to the primary therapy. •    Cancer genomics research is the foundation for novel clinical trials designed to accelerate the pace at which new therapeutics are approved for patient care. •    Cancer immunotherapeutics are continuing to yield remarkable, long-lasting patient responses in several types of cancer.

Here, City of Hope experts offer their view of the report and of the status of cancer research:

Stephen Forman, M.D., Francis and Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation:

“This past year has seen a tremendous growth of both our understanding  of cancer and  hope for patients with these diseases, derived from research into the cancer genome, and the role of the immune system in controlling the disease.  These research accomplishments are now the basis for s number of new trials  for a wide variety of cancers that affect both adults and children.”

Forman and his team are among only a handful of research teams in the nation exploring immunotherapy approaches to blood cancers, specifically using a patient’s own T-cells that have been modified to fight the disease and stop recurrences.

Karen Reckamp, M.D., co-director of the Lung Cancer and Thoracic Oncology Program:
“Our expanding knowledge of genomic alterations in cancer, has brought an exciting era of targeted therapies that is dramatically improving patients' lives in terms of quality and survival.

In lung cancer, we have an understanding of molecular pathways that mediate cancer development and progression, which have led to new therapies for patients.  In addition, we are finding mechanisms of resistance to targeted therapies resulting in treatments to inhibit resistance, with significant impact on the course of the cancer.

Patients with lung cancer have also experienced responses to immunotherapy, which are often better and more durable than standard chemotherapy.  We anticipate new results from phase III trials of immunotherapy in lung cancer in the next year.”

Joseph Alvarnas, M.D., director of Medical Quality:

Alvarnas treats patients with hematologic malignancies, and also conducts research in the areas of hematopoietic cell transplantation, HIV and issues of healthcare access and outcomes.

"Innovative scientific research is helping to bring to bring novel and more effective new treatments, at an unparalleled rate, to people suffering from cancer.

Reductions in funding for cancer research and the narrowing of healthcare networks threaten to slow the rate of innovation or deny those patients most in need of access to state-of-the-art care.

New scientific discoveries have completely changed our understanding of cancer. In the past, cancer was an unknowable enemy for whom the only choice was more and more toxic treatments. We now understand that cancer is biologically complex disease whose underlying causes are knowable and by extension treatable with innovative, targeted therapies that strive for greater effectiveness delivered with far less toxicity.

With more people surviving cancer than ever before, the next great fight is in ensuring that all newly diagnosed patients get access to the best and most effective treatments available.

Any reductions in funding for basic cancer research would threaten to undermine the great leaps forward that we have seen in the past decade."

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