“Dear Big Pharma, What Have You Done For Us Lately? Sincerely, Cancer”

Many of us in “cancer land” are skeptical of Big Pharma’s true intent and role in the war against cancer. What kind of progress are we making in the development of new and improved drug treatments, particularly for lung cancer? How is the current economic slump impacting the work of pharmaceutical companies?

Here is one perspective in a guest post by Kate Connors.
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Kate Connors

Kate Connors is a director of communications and public affairs for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), an association that represents America’s research-based biopharmaceutical companies, who are leading the way in the search for new cures for patients worldwide. Kate is also one of two writers for The Catalyst, PhRMA’s blog. PhRMA members alone invested an estimated $49.4 billion in 2010 in discovering and development new medicines. Industry-wise research and investment reached a record $67.4 billion in 2010.

Last year, President Obama issued a call for a cure for cancer in our lifetime, and we, like many others who strive to meet his goal, took it up as a rallying cry.

Unfortunately, as Jennifer Windrum and her mother know, that rallying cry somewhat simplifies the truth of the battle against cancer.

After all, there is no such thing as “cancer.” What we actually face in that battle is breast cancer, skin cancer, pancreatic cancer, esophageal cancer – the list goes on and on – and, of course lung cancer.

And even THAT is a simplification. There’s small-cell lung cancer and there’s non-small-cell lung cancer. Within those, there are many more sub-types. There are many phases of each, and there is operable and inoperable.

In the end, what researchers confront in the cancer battle is not one enemy, but hundreds.

Unfortunately, patients often understand this better than almost anyone else, because they are the ones waiting and hoping for a new weapon against bronchioalveolar carcinoma or pleuropulmonary blastoma – not, as we often say – against cancer.

The good news is that they’re not the only ones who daily confront these challenges. Jen asks, in WTF?, a good question – where’s the funding for lung cancer? And just as there’s no one cure for cancer, there’s no one answer to her question, because the funding is all over the place.

We, in the biopharmaceutical research sector, are part of a collaborative ecosystem of research, working closely with government researchers and academia on basic research, then translating it to the real world through extensive drug development programs and clinical trials. Whether it comes from the private or the public sector, the funding finds its way to research hospitals, academic medical centers, and to biopharmaceutical company research labs.

And while there are concerns about the future stability of government funding, the dedication of researchers across America does not waver, and biopharmaceutical companies continue to invest in R&D at levels that outpace the National Institutes of Health, recently by twofold. In fact, last year alone, companies invested $67.4 billion in research and development of potential new medicines.

So, perhaps the next question is WTFG? – where’s the funding going?

We at PhRMA just released a new report on cancer research, finding 887 medicines currently in development for cancer. Of those, 98 of those medicines are being developed to target lung cancers – as a group, the leading cause of cancer death in America (the lung cancer section begins on page 27, but unfortunately, is not able to break down most of the medicines’ disease targets beyond small-cell or non-small-cell – however, the companies sponsoring those trials are listed, and more information may be available through them).

Some of those potential new medicines are novel, while others are proven therapies, on the market for other cancers, which may be beneficial to lung cancer patients, as well.

To put the numbers into context, though, let’s look at the increase that they represent. When PhRMA released our first report on medicines in development for cancer in 1988, only 65 were recorded. As recently as 2005, there were fewer than 400 medicines in development for cancer. Only six years later, we’ve more than doubled that figure, to the nearly 900 that we reported a few days ago.

Not all of these medicines will pass muster in clinical trials, so not all of them will reach patients. But we do hope patients battling cancer today will see that there is hope for treatment tomorrow. Each step forward may be a small step, but if we all keep marching together, we’ll get there eventually.
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As always, I would love your input!

  • Diane

    Assuming we don’t already know that “cancer” is not a singular disease, is a tad patronizing. I imagine I can allow that a pass, being it’s a common attitude toward patients.
    CANCERS are an industry. Unless CURING it is as profitable (in the FULL scope of it’s economics) as TREATMENT is…there is…sadly…not much incentive for anything more than..MORE treatment. Perhaps a better treatment, but treatment just the same.

    LC being the #1 killer… ENORMOUS amounts of money depend on us being “treated” not “cured”…and for very rare cancers, there isn’t enough money to be made in research, treatment OR cure. Sad.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Olivier-Boss/1152560346 Olivier Boss

    ‘ENORMOUS amounts of money depend on us being “treated” not “cured” ‘

    This is an easy, very popular, generalization that is absolutely wrong. Frankly, do you really think that if someone/a company had a way to cure a type of cancer (i.e., save the patients for good) they would “hide” it, not tell anyone about it? Get real!
    In fact, such a cure would not only help patients tremendously but it would also make the company famous and bring it much reward (including financial).

  • Betsy

    Oliver-
    All due respect, have you been through the cancer circus/circuit?
    If so, you would quickly learn phrases like “help patients”, “save the patients for good” and “help patients tremendously” are not applicable in the world of cancer(especially Lung Cancer) that is fueled by money, power,self glory…
    This is not an opinion, it is a brutal reality, that any cognizant lung patient has been forced to assimilate.
    When examining Big Pharma, research grants and Big Biz Charities it becomes evident that the cancer patients “best interest” is not in the equation…And “CURE” is the multi-million- dollar-dangled- carrot that keeps the $$$ rollin’ in.
    I’d give what remains of my left lung to possess a fraction of your naivete, but the sad truth is,I’ve garnered knowledge that I would gladly forfeit.The politics of this disease are surrounded by corruption, greed and slime.Any long-time advocate can attest to this.
    Tell a soldier in the foxhole “That it’s not that bad”, as the bullets whiz by…
    What surpasses the horrors of fighting this lethal disease, is the invalidation that comes from individuals that continue to sabotage the truth with idealistic musings.
    AAaaahhhh-To live in the land of make-believe…

  • Tensace

    To believe that Big Pharma wants to treat, not cure, cancer for its profits assumes that ALL its researchers are heartless bastards with no access to the press nor the internet. It further assumes that somewhere in a secret lab and freezer are those cures that they save for their closest friends and family and that crazy rich people who routinely have their own foundations are in on the secret.