From the editor: Creating perspective 

DDW’s Editor Lu Rahman comments and gives perspective on the global drug discovery and development market in the UK.

As I’m writing this in the UK, there are reports of gas supply shortages, a lack of CO2­ affecting food supply, the price of energy is rising and the cherry on top – murmurings of cancelling Christmas. Our newspapers make grim reading at the moment. I’m thankful, therefore, that I can divert my attention and for my working day at least, focus on more positive news.  

While we may have woken up to talk of a three-day week energy supply, we also learnt that a drug combination has been shown to offer hope for treatment-resistant advanced ovarian cancer, shrinking tumours in 46% of patients. The drugs – which work by blocking signals cancer cells need to grow – could offer new treatment for women with an uncommon type of ovarian cancer that rarely responds to chemotherapy or hormone therapy.  

The findings have come via the Phase I FRAME trial. The drugs – VS-6766 and defactinib –  were tested in patients with low-grade serous ovarian cancer and nearly half saw their tumours shrink significantly in response to the treatment.  

This is great news. In the UK, ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cause of cancer death, with around 4,200 deaths in 2018, according to Cancer Research UK. In the US, the American Cancer Society estimates that in 2021, 13,770 women will die from this disease.   

This oncology breakthrough is not alone – AstraZeneca announced what it has described as ‘groundbreaking’ results following a trial of a breast cancer drug Enhertu for the treatment of HER-2-positive breast cancer. It demonstrated a signifcant reduction in the risk of disease progression or death compared with current treatments.  

Susan Galbraith, Executive Vice President, Oncology R&D, said: “Enhertu tripled progression-free survival as assessed by investigators, and provided a disease control rate exceeding 95% compared to 77% for T-DM1 in DESTINY-Breast03. In addition, the safety profile was encouraging with no Grade 4 or 5 interstitial lung disease events in this trial. These unprecedented data represent a potential paradigm shift in the treatment of HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer and illustrate the potential for Enhertu to transform more patient lives in earlier treatment settings.”   

Another soul-lifting finding is the report that the technology used by the Oxford-AstraZeneca team for the Covid-19 jab has been used to create a vaccine that could potentially target tumours in humans.   

Research from the University of Oxford and the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research has shown that this viral vector cancer vaccine generates effective anti-tumour immune responses and, in combination with immunotherapy, decreases tumour size and increases survival rates in mouse models. According to Adrian Hill, Director of the Jenner Institute, University of Oxford, said: ‘This new vaccine platform has the potential to revolutionise cancer treatment.” 

Meanwhile in Italy, the European Institute of Oncology has been involved in the discovery that the EPN3 gene plays a role helping breast cancer grow and spread in the body. Understanding how this works may create a target for breast cancer drugs. Studies on a new cancer drug coming out of the VU University Medical Center in the Netherlands could help multiple myeloma patients and in Spain, the University of the Basque Country has found that blocking a molecule on the surface of cancer cells, could stop them spreading. 

The global drug discovery and development market is relentless in its pursuit of innovation, creating therapeutics and vaccines that benefIt our health. We may be in for a rocky ride in the UK but this sector really does help put things in perspective. 

Volume 22, Issue 4 – Fall 2021

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