The mission at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer is to eradicate cancer, which remains a major cause of mortality worldwide. It is the second leading cause of death in the United States and globally, claiming more lives than malaria, HIV/AIDs and tuberculosis combined (or ~1 of every 7 deaths) (1-3).
Still, the news about cancer is not all grim, given the incredible advances we have witnessed in cancer treatments over the past several years, highlighted by targeted therapies and novel immunotherapies, including immune checkpoint inhibitors, chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy and cancer vaccines.
Despite the recent success, improvements in drug design are of little value for patients if novel therapeutics cannot be advanced from the bench to the bedside both efficiently (minimising the failure rates to keeps costs down) and rapidly (to provide transformative, life-saving medications to as many patients as possible, as soon as possible).
At present, the development of a new drug, from discovery to its clinical approval is about 10 years, with an average cost of $2.6 billon (including the costs of failures) (4). Further slowing drug development is a ‘herd mentality’, where companies focus their research and development effort on the latest and hottest therapeutic target, while other equally-worthy targets are deprioritised or progressed with limited resources.
To address the issues in oncology drug development, we have instituted a unique approach that leverages the many attributes of MD Anderson and maintains a singular focus on our patients. We built the Therapeutics Discovery Division as a biotechlike organisation within the walls of the largest cancer centre in the United States, leveraging our size and the quality of our people to transform drug development in a way that places the patient front and centre. We envisioned an operation that would complement the research model of biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies by providing an alternative source of impactful therapies.
Already in the past several years we have made notable advances. We have multiple novel treatments, including small-molecule drugs, biologics and adoptive cell therapies, in early clinical trials and several others set to enter the clinic in the next six months. As we have built our programme and implemented our model for drug development, we have learned valuable lessons for more rapidly and efficiently advancing potentially life-saving medications out of the laboratory and into clinical settings around the world.....
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