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More Than 2,000 Drugs Now in Cancer Immunotherapy Race

December 07, 2017

By Ben Hirschler

LONDON (Reuters) - The race to develop new immunotherapy treatments against cancer has sparked an unprecedented explosion in the oncology drug pipeline, with more than 2,000 immune system-boosting agents now in development.

The result is a scramble for patients to enroll in clinical trials, duplication of effort and the likely ultimate failure of many projects, according to experts.

Aiman Shalabi of the non-profit Cancer Research Institute said on Thursday that a global analysis, the first of its kind, had found 940 immunotherapy drugs in clinical stage development, with a further 1,064 at the preclinical stage.

This year alone, 469 new clinical studies were started, with a target enrolment of 52,539 patients, according to data presented by Shalabi at a European Society for Medical Oncology meeting in Geneva and published online December 7 in Annals of Oncology.

"The field is very promising and has the potential to deliver many breakthroughs to change the standard of care of many cancer types," Shalabi and colleagues wrote in the journal. "However, it is also very crowded, fragmented and uncoordinated with significant duplication."

Roche Chief Executive Severin Schwan is convinced the mass rush into the hot new field of immunotherapy will lead to multiple disappointments.

As the world's biggest cancer drug company, the Swiss group expects to emerge among a handful of winners but Schwan also sees many failures and a wave of consolidation.

"I cannot imagine in my wildest dreams that all of these medicines will make it to the market and be competitive. There will be an enormous drop-out from all these clinical trials, which means a lot of people that invested into these trials will lose money," he said in a interview on Wednesday.

"I would expect to see a few winners and many losers."

Shalabi said there needed to be to rethink of cancer research and development, with a focus on more collaboration between both companies and academia.


Ann Oncol 2017.

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