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Oncology's research boom

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Note from the editor

Since 2015, the Food and Drug Administration's main drug review office has approved about seven dozen new cancer drugs, more than a quarter of the nearly 290 medicines it cleared for market during that time.

The long list of new treatments reflects the advent of cancer immunotherapy as well as continued progress in matching treatment to genetics. New drugs for lung, breast, skin and blood cancers have made gains over previous standards of care, while other additions have expanded options for patients.

Many of those new therapies, however, are getting cleared with less and less supporting evidence, at times lacking control group comparisons or evidence of a survival benefit over typical treatment.

Drugmakers and, largely, the FDA argue that the medicines now being reviewed are different than the chemotherapies and blunter interventions of the past. Targeted to genetic mutations, newer drugs can be given to only those patients most likely to benefit, meaning an experimental compound's effectiveness is more readily apparent.

While not all agree, that view is having consequences for how clinical trials are being run, and for how much money drugmakers are investing in cancer R&D. Hundreds of studies are being launched in research pivots by large pharmaceutical companies, which are aggressively targeting inventive biotechs via billion-dollar buyouts.

More recently, though, there have been signs of the FDA reevaluating some of the speedy approvals it's handed out to immunotherapies like Keytruda. In April, the agency convened an advisory meeting to review whether six immunotherapy indications should remain or be withdrawn from market. Advisers supported four of the six indications, but the meeting highlighted some of the regulator's concerns. 

Read on for a look at how cancer research is advancing and how it's changing the pharma and biotech sectors in the process.

Ned Pagliarulo Lead Editor

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Inside Oncology's Research Boom

The long list of new treatments reflects the advent of cancer immunotherapy as well as continued progress in matching treatment to genetics. New drugs for lung, breast, skin and blood cancers have made gains over standard of care, while other additions have expanded options for patients.

included in this trendline
  • Merck and Pfizer demonstrate how they tap sites for cancer trials
  • Impact of coronavirus on cancer research
  • Latest trends and challenges in cancer immunotherapy