Forbes Treatments blog's Robert Langreth, spoke to cancer geneticist Garth Anderson about cancer treatments last week. Anderson says that targeted cancer treatments are a waste of time because there are too many mutations in a tumor for one drug to treat them, and that the way to fight cancer is to develop better surgical techniques. Langreth's post, titled "Why Pfizer Can't Cure Cancer," annoyed Pfizer's Mace Rothenberg, the head of the company's oncology section, who wrote to Langreth to say that the fight against cancer isn't an "all-or-nothing process" and that a series of small advances lead up to "significant improvement" in cancer treatments. Rothenberg, Langreth says, is trying to take the approach of testing cancer drugs only in patients that might see a benefit from them, as opposed to the "traditional big pharma approach of testing cancer drugs on the largest population possible." The company is currently developing a lung cancer drug for patients with a tumor mutation in the ALK gene, and it was successful in 57 percent of the 82 patients with the mutation, Langreth says. But only about five percent of all lung cancer patients carry the mutation, he adds, lending credence to Anderson's point that targeted therapies don't help a lot of people. "If other drugs work on similarly small fractions of lung cancer patients, you might need to develop 80 drugs to increase overall lung cancer survival by two years ... It's a daunting task, given the current low success rate in trials," Langreth says.
Aug 16, 2010