The Biotech Pipeline: Opportunities in Oncology

Published: 21 Jan 2008

By Paljit Sohal, Programme Leader, Pharmaceuticals and Biotechnology - Healthcare

As the understanding of mechanisms behind cancer progression increases, new drugs and therapeutics are reaching clinical trials. Research and development efforts for new cancer therapeutics over the past few years have been spreading in many new directions. One new direction of research is the development of new, targeted therapies for prolonging the life of cancer patients. One reason for the increased research focus on this segment is that the new selective therapies offer disease relief without debilitating side effects. Therefore, from the patient's point of view, the treatment offers months or years of high quality life, even if there is a relapse. There have been significant advancements in the development of biotech drugs, including therapeutic monoclonal antibodies in the area of oncology. Although there are a number of monoclonal antibodies already in the market, the oncology market is largely untapped and holds significant potential.

Chart 1 shows the significance of cancer related drugs in the current biotech pipeline.

Click to view enlarge

Presently in phase III of the oncology biotech pipeline, nearly 50.0% of products are monoclonal antibodies. Monoclonal antibodies, target and bind to a specific antigen on the surface of cancer cells, and are designed to have a cytotoxic effect on them through various different mechanisms. Cancer forms a major disease category for which monoclonal antibodies are being developed. The key areas clinical trials are being conducted in are non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, colorectal cancer, head and neck cancer, ovarian cancer and small cell lung cancer. There has been growing approvals in this area. Some examples include Erbitux, Herceptin, Avastin, Humira and Xolair. There has been a good acceptance of monoclonal antibodies by patients and the healthcare community, which is reflected by growing sales. Monoclonal antibodies have established their efficacy and safety profile in treating cancer. The next generation of monoclonal antibodies have also evolved with the radiolabelling of monoclonal antibodies with radioactive agents. This forms a potent combination of targeted attack on the cancer cells.

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