Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Scientific Community
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article

Cancer Survival Rates will be Boosted by Drug Development

Published: Monday, December 10, 2012
Last Updated: Monday, December 10, 2012
Bookmark and Share
Bristol-Myers Squib’s research chief discusses pharmaceutical innovations at UCSF cancer center showcase.

The rate of cancer survival is expected to keep climbing in coming years largely thanks to research discoveries that are translating into new cancer drugs, which currently account for roughly 30 percent of the pharmaceutical dollar, the chief scientific officer at Bristol-Myers Squib recently said at a showcase event for the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“Improvements in innovation in detection, prevention and treatment have provided real gains against cancers over the past few decades,” Elliott Sigal, MD, PhD, also Bristol-Myers Squib's president of research and development and a former UCSF medical resident, said during his Nov. 7 keynote address at the cancer center.

“Overall, age-adjusted, five-year survival rates in the U.S. have increased by more than one-third since 1975,” Sigal noted. “What’s more, it is estimated that advances in drug therapy - pharmaceuticals - accounted for half or more of these increases in survival rates.”

Sigal discussed three areas of innovation that he said were almost certain to continue to drive cancer survival upward.

The first is an explosion of genetic discoveries that are leading to innovations in drug design and to the better tailoring of treatments to the characteristics of individual tumors, Sigal said.

The second is the development of better chemical strategies for delivering drugs to targeted cancer cells within the body. The third thrust is the pharmaceutical manipulation of the body’s own immune system to more aggressively attack cancerous cells.

The successful translation of research discovery into better outcomes for patients depends on companies, universities and government, according to Sigal.

“We live in an ecosystem of contributions in the biomedical enterprise: small companies, large companies, government funding - and very importantly - academic researchers,” he said. “Without any one piston of the engine firing, things will fail.”

The UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, which recently received a renewal grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), unites top scientists with exceptional medical practitioners.

Their interdisciplinary teamwork enables them not only to make key scientific discoveries, but also to ensure that the knowledge gained leads to better treatments for patients.

UCSF’s long tradition of excellence in cancer research includes, notably, the Nobel Prize-winning work of J. Michael Bishop, MD, UCSF chancellor emeritus, and Harold Varmus, MD, who discovered cancer-causing oncogenes.

Their work opened new doors for exploring genetic mistakes that cause cancer, and formed the basis for some of the most important cancer research happening today.

Cancers Grouped by Genetic Mutations
The discovery of genetic alterations within cells that drive molecular events leading to their out-of-control growth - and to tumor formation, growth and spread - has changed the way medical researchers think of cancers and their treatment.

Cancer researchers have been working with the National Institutes of Health to construct the Cancer Genome Atlas, a catalog of the mutations that are responsible for normal cells becoming cancerous.

This growing understanding of mutations in cancer in turn has led to a better understanding of the chains of biochemical events that make a cell cancerous and to the identification of many new molecular targets for pharmaceutical development, Sigal said. This new knowledge also has been used to identify more effective ways to use already marketed drugs.

“Scientists and physicians are beginning to understand the underlying variability of how patients respond to the same drug treatment,” Sigal said.

Tumors have always been named for the organs in which they originate, but when it comes to drug treatment they now are being thought of more often in terms of genetic mutations and their implications, many of which are shared across organ types, Sigal said.

For example, Sigal said, “Some lung cancers may respond to drug therapy more like a select set of colon cancers, or like some prostate cancers, rather than like other types of lung cancer.” Increasingly, biomarkers and genetic tests are available to identify tumors that will respond best to particular treatments. Now drug companies can test experimental treatments in subsets of patients expected to have the most benefit.

“You could theoretically have a smaller and faster clinical program,” and be less likely to miss recognizing an effective treatment, Sigal said.

Attacking Tumors with Fewer Side Effects
Some immune antibodies that target molecules that often are present on certain types of tumors already have been developed and marketed as cancer drugs, but combining antibodies with existing chemotherapies, which are powerful toxins, is another promising approach.

“We have been working on this for 20 or 30 years or more,” he said. “There have been ups and downs.”

However, new chemical strategies hold promise, he added, especially those that use chemical “linkers” with special properties to attach an antibody to a drug and to release the active drug within a tumor cell.

“You can use the homing mechanism of the antibody to be very, very specific, and the nature of the chemistry to release the cytotoxic agent only when necessary and only when effective,” Sigal said.

Using Immune System to Fight Cancer
It’s been a century since physicians first recognized that tumors occasionally regressed when the immune system was activated as a result of an acute infection.

But only in recent years have scientists uncovered many of the details about how immune responses begin, end and are directed to specific targets. Now they have begun to manipulate these responses.

Normally the immune system accepts a tumor as part of the self, but academic researchers and drug companies have conspired to successfully rev up the immune system to fight cancer.

UCSF researchers and oncologists have played a key role in developing and testing immunotherapies that enhance the body’s own immune response. These treatments include Yervoy, which releases the brakes that hold back the immune system from fighting cancer, and Provenge, which in 2010 became the first vaccine approved to treat any cancer. Provenge was approved for the treatment of prostate cancer, following early studies led by UCSF oncologist Eric Small, MD.

Vervoy was shepherded through the final stages of clinical trials by Bristol-Myers Squibb and now is an approved treatment for melanoma, the most deadly skin cancer.

The pharmaceutical giant bought both of the smaller companies that first developed and combined two different drug strategies to create the new treatment, which is based on scientific discoveries by James Allison, PhD, a former member of the UC Berkeley faculty and of UCSF’s cancer center, who now chairs the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center Department of Immunology.

“We’re used to delivering an agent and watching the tumor shrink, but in this case you incite an inflammatory reaction and the tumor swells,” Sigal said. “Many of our competitors missed this scientific fact and thought it actually was progression of disease.”

Melanomas, however, have completed vanished among a significant fraction of patients treated with Yervoy without returning for five years or more, Sigal said, and for all melanoma patients treated in clinical trials, the likelihood of survival has roughly doubled. “Once the immune system is reactivated the responses to fight tumors can be quite profound and quite durable,” he said.

Sigal wants to better target the drug to patients most likely to benefit, but the company also aims to evaluate Yervoy combined with radiation, or with traditional chemotherapy or with other drugs that activate the immune system. The focus of these clinical trials will be prostate, ovarian and lung cancer, Sigal said.

Universities have been a major source of new drugs, and strong ties between sectors remain crucial to developing better treatments and improving cancer survival, according to Sigal.

“A focus on partnerships to extend our reach and scope has been critical to all R&D [research and development] organizations,” he said. “We’re in a very globally interconnected world. Science is more and more complex. The regulatory environment is very demanding, and we are all resource-constrained. Research grants are very hard to come by. … And we have to share our ideas and resources more than ever. Academia is critical to everything that the industry does.”

Further Information
Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 2,600+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More than 3,800+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters

Sign In

Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

Opening the Door to Safer, More Precise Cancer Therapies
New method regulates when, and how strongly, cancer-killing therapeutic T cells are activated.
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Scientists Create CRISPR/Cas9 Knock-In Mutations in Human T Cells
In a project spearheaded by investigators at UC San Francisco, scientists have devised a new strategy to precisely modify human T cells using the genome-editing system known as CRISPR/Cas9.
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
Delivering Drugs to the Right Place
Thomas Weimbs has developed a targeted drug delivery method that could potentially slow the progression of polycystic kidney disease.
Monday, June 29, 2015
Designing New Pain Relief Drugs
Researchers have identified the molecular interactions that allow capsaicin to activate the body’s primary receptor for sensing heat and pain, paving the way for the design of more selective and effective drugs to relieve pain.
Thursday, June 11, 2015
Genetic Markers for Detecting and Treating Ovarian Cancer
Custom bioinformatics algorithm identifies human mRNAs that distinguish ovarian cancer cells from normal cells and provide new therapeutic targets
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Using microRNA Fit to a T (Cell)
Researchers show B cells can deliver potentially therapeutic bits of modified RNA.
Friday, November 29, 2013
Digging Deeper Into Cancer
What a pathologist looks for in a Pap test sample, but hopes not to find, are oddly shaped cells with abnormally large nuclei. The same is true for prostate and lung cancer biopsies.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Nanotech Method Show Promise Against Pancreatic Cancer
Researchers at UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center have developed a new technique for fighting deadly and hard-to-treat pancreatic cancer.
Monday, November 18, 2013
Researchers Un-Junking Junk DNA
A study shines a new light on molecular tools our cells use to govern regulated gene expression.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Powerful Anti-Cancer Compound Safely Delivered
Researchers have discovered a way to effectively deliver staurosporine (STS).
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Pan-Cancer Studies Find Common Patterns Shared by Different Tumor Types
Findings may open up new treatment options by extending therapies effective in one cancer type to others with a similar genomic profile.
Wednesday, October 02, 2013
RNA Molecule Is Behind Behavior Changes Cued by Environment
UCSF study may point to key mechanism of cellular memory.
Thursday, September 05, 2013
Disabling Enzyme Cripples Tumors, Cancer Cells
Knocking out a single enzyme dramatically cripples the ability of aggressive cancer cells to spread and grow tumors.
Thursday, September 05, 2013
Scientists Devise Innovative Method to Profile and Predict the Behavior of Proteins
A class of proteins that are made up of multiple, interlocking molecular components, enzymes perform a variety of tasks inside each cell.
Friday, August 09, 2013
Non-Invasive Test Optimizes Colon Cancer Screening
Organized mailing campaigns could substantially increase colorectal cancer screening among uninsured patients.
Wednesday, August 07, 2013
Scientific News
Tolerant Immune System Increases Cancer Risk
Researchers have found that individuals with high immunoCRIT ratios may have an increased risk of developing certain cancers.
Developing a Gel that Mimics Human Breast for Cancer Research
Scientists at the Universities of Manchester and Nottingham have been funded to develop a gel that will match many of the biological structures of human breast tissue, to advance cancer research and reduce animal testing.
New Gene Therapy for Vision Loss From a Mitochondrial Disease
NIH-funded study shows success in targeting mitochondrial DNA in mice.
Predictive Model for Breast Cancer Progression
Biomedical engineers have demonstrated a proof-of-principle technique that could give women and their oncologists more personalized information to help them choose options for treating breast cancer.
Specific Variations in RNA Splicing Linked to Breast Cancer
Researchers have identified cellular changes that may play a role in converting normal breast cells into tumors. Targeting these changes could potentially lead to therapies for some forms of breast cancer.
Gene Expression: A Snapshot of Stem Cell Development
New genes found that regulate development of stem cells.
Assessing Cancer Patient Survival and Drug Sensitivity
RNA editing events another way to investigate biomarkers and therapy targets.
Editing Genes to Create HIV Killers
Seattle scientists have managed to genetically transform human cells in the lab from HIV targets to HIV killers, and the technique could have implications for cancer and other diseases.
Researchers Disguise Drugs As Platelets to Target Cancer
Researchers have for the first time developed a technique that coats anticancer drugs in membranes made from a patient’s own platelets.
A New Single-Molecule Tool to Observe Enzymes at Work
A team of scientists at the University of Washington and the biotechnology company Illumina have created an innovative tool to directly detect the delicate, single-molecule interactions between DNA and enzymatic proteins.

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
2,600+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
3,800+ scientific videos