Last week, I mentioned how the Institute of Cancer Research recently discovered the driving force behind cancer’s ability to spread. And a drug that would potentially stop it.
But when it comes to eradicating the tumor itself, treatments have traditionally been chemotherapy or radiation.
The problem: These methods don’t just destroy malignant cancer cells, but also healthy cells.
The solution: immunotherapy.
It’s a form of cancer treatment that targets only harmful cells by triggering either an active or passive immune response.
And while the FDA approved the first active immunotherapy vaccine for prostate cancer last year, recent developments show passive immunotherapy has great potential as well.
According to Nature, because of passive immunotherapy drugs’ “unparalleled ability to target proteins found on the surface of tumor cells… their high profit margins and strong patent protections have pharmaceutical companies clamoring for more.”
And “more” is exactly what two breakout biotechs are delivering. They’ve developed unique passive treatments that target cancer cells more aggressively than ever before.
Delivering Cancer a Deadly Dose
Simply put, traditional passive immunotherapy drugs work by zeroing in on proteins found on the surface of a tumor.
Recent trials suggest that a new type of passive drug – “antibody-drug conjugates” – packs a lot more punch, though.
Conjugates are designed to pinpoint proteins found on the surface of a tumor, also. But once they infiltrate the tumor, they release a payload of cancer-killing poison.
You see, in the past, drug developers weren’t able to keep the poison in check until the correct moment of release.
As Nature puts it, “For decades, developers have struggled to get the crucial elements to work together: the antibody, the drug it carries and the linker that binds the two.”
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Leading the Antibody-Drug Renaissance
ImmunoGen’s new T-DM1 drug combines the company’s proprietary cancer-killing agent with Genentech’s breast-cancer targeting antibody, HER2.
The company reported strong Phase II data for the drug in April. And patients taking T-DM1 lived longer and showed fewer side effects than those undergoing traditional chemotherapy. It’s even expected to be approved by the FDA in 2012.
Additionally, ImmunoGen also has drugs in its pipeline to treat lymphoma, lung cancer and myeloma.
And then there’s Seattle Genetics’ Adcetris drug. It’s basically an antibody that targets lymphoma, combined with a synthetic poison called vedotin.
Clinical trials for the drug demonstrated its ability to shrink tumors 94% of the time. And 73% of the patients in the trial saw partial or complete remission.
The drug received FDA approval two weeks ago, making it the first drug of its kind to receive clearance. But according to the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development in Boston, it won’t be the last.
That’s because competition in the space is heating up. Just since 2009, four new antibody-drug conjugates entered clinical trials. So now there’s a total of 25 conjugates in different testing phases.
But considering that there’s only one other drug currently in late stage clinical trials, and Adcetris is on track to pull in $400 million in annual sales, ImmunoGen and Seattle Genetics are certainly the standout players in the space right now. So invest accordingly.