Advances in Cancer Treatment

As scientists work to discover causes of different types of cancer—whether cigarette smoking, obesity, environmental pollution or genetic traits—it is the advances in cancer treatment that will result in better patient outcomes in the next few years. Frost & Sullivan has identified a number of promising technologies being developed around the world.

Despite better public awareness campaigns and improved screening techniques, cancer continues to take a deadly toll: the National Cancer Institute estimated that more than 1.7 million new cases will be diagnosed in the United States in 2018, and that about 609,000 people will die of the disease. Based on data collected from 2013 to 2015, the institute calculates that approximately 38.4% of all U.S. men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives. As the population increases and ages, the $147.3 billion that Frost & Sullivan estimated was spent on cancer care in the United States in 2017 is likely to surge.

As scientists work to discover causes of different types of cancer—whether cigarette smoking, obesity, environmental pollution or genetic traits—it is the advances in cancer treatment that will result in better patient outcomes in the next few years. Frost & Sullivan has identified a number of promising technologies being developed around the world.

Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, N.Y.

Scientists have spent years investigating the neutral sphingomyelinase (nSMase2) enzyme that is responsible for cell growth regulation in cancer without being able to identify its mechanism. Now, for the first time, researchers have visualized its structure, which will provide a foundation for further exploration of the enzyme and its effect on cancer growth. Academic scientists screened thousands of different samples to have the nSMase2 form tiny crystals upon which they projected X-rays. As protein reflected the X-rays, the team used the angle of their movements to calculate the enzyme’s structure. The researchers are now identifying new scaffolds that could be used as drugs to inhibit this enzyme and thus the cancer that it fosters.

Zymeworks Inc., Vancouver, Canada

The biopharmaceutical company is developing biotherapeutics for cancer based on its Azymetric platform, which can rapidly screen target and sequence combinations of monoclonal antibodies for bispecific activities in their final therapeutic format. This significantly reduces the time needed to develop new drugs.

Scientists are using the platform to develop bispecific monoclonal antibodies that possess a long serum half-life and tend to have a low immunogenicity risk. Zymeworks is conducting Phase 1 clinical trials of its ZW25 therapeutic antibody to treat patients with locally advanced and/or metastatic human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2)-expressing breast and gastric cancers.

The technology appears promising: Frost & Sullivan found that Zymeworks is strategically collaborating with pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly to develop bispecific antibodies for a range of disease conditions. In March, the company licensed its Azymetric and Effector Function Enhancement and Control Technology (EFFECT) platforms to Japanese pharmaceutical company Daiichi Sankyo, on the back of companies’ original oncology treatment collaboration that began in 2016. EFFECT is a library of antibody modifications designed to adjust the activity of the antibody-mediated immune response. When used with the Azymetric bispecific antibodies, the platform further enables the customizing of therapeutic responses for cancer and other diseases.

Tel-Aviv University, Israel

The American Cancer Society reports only about 20% of patients with pancreatic cancer will survive one year after diagnosis because of its aggressive nature, and only 7% will survive five years. No effective therapy exists to improve these survivability rates.

University scientists, with support from the European Research Council and the Israel Science Foundation, have developed a nanoparticle that selectively delivers miR-34a, a gene suppressant that degrades hundreds of oncogenes that promote cancer, and a PLK1 small interfering RNA (siRNA) that silences a single gene. An enzyme in the pancreatic cancer cells biodegrades the nanoparticle to deliver the agents to the tumor.

The nanoparticle ensures that the therapeutic genetic materials will solely target the tumors. The technology was able to significantly improve the survival rate of mouse subjects with pancreatic cancer. Because the genetic behavior of the disease in mice reflects that of humans, scientists hope to adapt the approach to treat human patients.

Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research, Germany

Malignant melanoma cells in the lymph nodes can form metastases in other parts of the body. Cancer surgeons face the daunting task of identifying the exact location of the diseased lymph nodes to completely excise them.

A Fraunhofer research team has developed 3D-ARILE, an augmented reality system to help surgeons identify and remove diseased lymph nodes. Doctors inject fluorescent dye near the primary tumor, then focus infrared light on the area, causing the dye to fluoresce. Programmed data glasses create a three-dimensional image of the affected lymph node in green that is superimposed over the surgeon’s line of vision.

3D-ARILE replaces the current practice of using technetium-99m as a medical tracer, which can cause radiation side effects. Other advantages are that it provides images in real time rather than the 30 minutes required by the technetium-99 technique, and presents them directly in front of the surgeon instead of on a separate monitor.

The Road Ahead

Frost & Sullivan has found signs of hope for cancer patients. While their numbers are expected to grow, so will the population of cancer survivors. The National Cancer Institute estimated that the number of survivors in the United States—about 15.5 million today—will pass the 20 million mark by 2026 as the overall mortality rate continues to decline. The institute’s SEER Cancer Statistics Review issued in April shows that the cancer death rate for U.S. men declined 1.8% per year from 2006 to 2015, and 1.4% per year for women over the same period. These figures are encouraging scientists and researchers to develop the novel surgical, pharmaceutical, and genetic therapies that will make this dread disease a thing of the past, like smallpox and yellow fever.

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