- Nearly twice as many cancer immunotherapies are now in development as were in testing two years ago, according to a new report from the Cancer Research Institute that highlights how the field has rapidly become a top target of drugmaker investment.
- Just under 3,900 active drugs are now under preclinical or clinical study, up 91% from 2017, researchers from CRI found. A large portion of that growth came in cell therapy, with 797 new agents added to the industry's pipeline over the past two years.
- While roughly two-thirds of the drug candidates tracked by the institute are in preclinical stages, the number of immunotherapies in clinical testing grew significantly, too.
Cancer immunotherapy appears an investment that drugmakers can't pass up.
The industry's pipeline continues to expand rapidly, with more than 5,000 active immuno-oncology studies listed in the federal database clinicaltrials.gov.
Researchers at CRI counted 60% more organizations, including academic and research groups, were actively conducting testing of cancer immunotherapies in 2019 than in 2017, according to data published Friday in Nature Drug Discovery.
"This tremendous investment and commitment from different sectors have laid the foundation for 31 approvals by the FDA for IO drugs in the past 2 years," the report's authors wrote.
For companies like Merck & Co., Bristol-Myers Squibb and Roche, cancer immunotherapies are now a crucial part of revenue growth. But others, like Novartis, Celgene, Amgen and Eli Lilly, have expanded their pipelines in hopes of gaining ground on the field's initial leaders.
Much of that research, however, focuses on similar biological pathways. There are more than 190 CD19-targeted immunotherapies in some form of testing, for example, as well as roughly 200 PD-1 and PD-L1 inhibitors.
Such overlap has raised concerns about duplicative efforts, as companies chase already proven drug classes.
Encouragingly, however, CRI found that 205 more targets were being studied in 2019 than in 2017, bringing the total ot 468 active targets. Some of the more common targets without an approved treatment include NY-ESO-1 and STAT3.
CRI's numbers for clinical immunotherapy candidates are higher than the nearly 450 counted this year by IQVIA, a research group, although differences in definitions could explain the gap.
In its May 2019 report, IQVIA noted growth in the overall number of cancer drugs in development and found more than 212,000 Americans were treated with PD-1 or PD-L1 drugs last year, up nearly 100-fold from 2014.