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Oncology's research boom

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Note from the editor

Over the last five years, the Food and Drug Administration's main drug review office has approved nearly six dozen new cancer drugs, a full quarter of the medicines it cleared for market during that time span.

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.

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. 

One new snag is the novel coronavirus, which has disrupted much of the life sciences industry as its spread keeps cities and the researchers within them on lockdown. 

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 Senior Editor

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