Cancer is the most studied disease

November 5, 2008 by  
Filed under CANCER

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It is good news for oncology, bad news for other therapeutic areas – cancer is currently the most studied disease. This is based on the number of studies registered at during the last two years, according to heartwire.

The review entitled “Trends in disease focus of drug development” and published in the August issue of Nature, examined

trends in industry-sponsored phase 2-4 interventional studies registered with the US-based clinical-trials registry between October 2005 and September 2007.” The results show that oncology ranked first in terms of the number of registered clinical trials.

Breast cancer and lung cancer were especially popular topics of study, probably because they are the most prevalent of all types of cancer. However, colorectal and prostate cancer studies were also many.

This is a blow to the field of cardiology which only ranked 3rd (after neurodegenerative disoders), used to be favorite study subject. In fact, many pharmaceutical companies are shifting their attention to oncology, leaving behind cardiovascular medicine as a low priority therapeutic area, inspite of the anti-cholesterol blockbuster drugs that brought in billions of dollars of revenues. One example is the case of Pfizer, which, in an internal memo somehow obtained by Forbes, expressed more enthusiasm for oncology than cardiology research. According to the memo, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, pain remedies, and mental health are the high priority areas.

According to the Nature review

anticancer drugs are the second largest therapy market, with US$ 34.6 billion in global pharmaceutical sales in 2006.” In that year, the top sellers were the lipid regulators which raked in sales of US$ 35.2 billion. However, this leading edge of anti-cholesterol drugs was considered “marginal” and is not expected to be sustainable. Most of the bestsellers (e.g. Lipitor (atorvastatin), Norvasc (amlodipine), Risperdal, Seroquel, Lamictal, and Avandia) or the previous years, many of which are cardiovascular drugs have either gone off patent or are schedule to go off-patent in the near future. Generic versions have flooded or will be flooding the market.

Anti-cancer drugs on the other hand, particularly chemotherapy drugs, are very expensive and are very unlikely to have generic versions anytime soon.

Avastin (bevacizumab), for example, a chemotherapy agent against colorectal cancer, can cost up to US$ 100,000 a year. For a life extension of 4.2 months, a patient has to pay $42,800 to $55,000.

In addition, drug regulators tend to pave the way towards fast approval of oncology drugs, in consideration of those people who are terminally ill and desperately hoping for a cure.

We can only hope that the current focus in oncology research will bring better (and hopefully cheaper) drugs to the market.

Photo credit: stock.xchng

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