New Targetted Cancer Drugs

Another Breast Cancer Gene

Today the Guardian announces that

"Cancer specialists will announce today that they have discovered a gene which may hold the key to a treatment for up to 10% of all breast cancers. The development could - in time - lead to treatments that would make chemotherapy unnecessary."

I have very mixed feelings about the spate of these kind of stories. On the one hand this is clearly a great triumph for science. At last we are beginning to understand all of the piece of the cancer puzzle. Are ability to do so will definitely make it easier to design specific therapies in the future. Just our ability to unravel the complexity of cancer amazes me.

And yet these stories often come with a promise of an imminent therapeutic intervention. In the last few years, there have been all manner of these stories. Yet in fact the drugs have been much slower in arriving than they promise. Its not surprising, both Herceptin and Gleevec too about a decade from the identification of the gene to the discovery of the drug. But there is another point in all of this, and that is that stories like this seem to characterise cancer as the problem of a single gene. Now that is not true. And the real problem for researchers will be trying to identify and treat the clusters of genes that go to causing a single cancer. Its going to be complicated stuff, much more complicated than these kind of news stories make out.

Link: Scientists find genetic key to some breast cancers.

The Boom in Drugs

About 400 cancer drugs from 178 companies are in clinical trials, according to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association. That is twice the number of drugs in trials for illnesses like Alzheimer's disease and depression and nearly three times as many as for heart attack and stroke.

For patients, the flood of drugs is generally good news because it means a better chance of finding one, or a combination, that will work for them. "From the standpoint of the patients there is never too many," said Dr. Robert J. Motzer, a kidney cancer specialist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

Increased competition could also mean that drug companies will put more effort into reducing side effects. In the past, it was considered acceptable for drugs to have noxious side effects because cancer was a fatal disease.