2017 was a good year in the fight against cancer.
Across the last decade, the FDA has approved an average of 8 new cancer drugs per year; in 2017, 14 new drugs were approved to treat a variety of cancers in both adults and children.
Dr. Alain Mita says the number of new approvals reflects exponential progress in cancer research. The hope is to significantly change the course of the disease, which remains the second leading cause of death in the United States.In 2017, 14 new drugs were approved to treat a variety of cancers in both adults and children. Click To Tweet
“We can treat cancer better than we did 10 years ago, and all that progress is thanks to patients participating in clinical trials and research,” says Dr. Mita, co-director of the Experimental Therapeutics Program at the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute.
“What’s especially exciting,” he adds, “is that Cedars-Sinai participated in the Phase 1 trial for the new prescription drug avelumab, which has been FDA-approved to treat skin and bladder cancers.” Phase 1 trials are designed to test the safety of a new drug and identify potential side effects.
In addition to the 14 new drugs approved in 2017, the FDA also gave the green light for 8 new indications in oncology. This means that existing drugs that were only approved to treat certain cancers may now be used to treat other types.
“The changing design of clinical trials allows researchers to get answers faster.”
One example is nivolumab, approved 2 years ago to treat skin and lung cancer, and approved in 2017 to treat bladder and liver cancers. “Nivolumab can now be used to treat 4 types of cancers, which wasn’t the case in 2016,” says Dr. Mita. “That’s wonderful news.”
A new approach
Dr. Mita says approvals for new indications show that we are changing how we approach both cancer treatment and research.
Pembrolizumab, a type of immunotherapy previously approved for a handful of select cancers, was approved this year to be used on any tumor with a certain gene profile.
“We can treat cancer better than we did 10 years ago, and all that progress is thanks to patients participating in clinical trials and research.”
“Before, each drug was approved for one kind of cancer, and if you wanted it approved for another type, you had to conduct a new set of studies,” he says. “In this case, an umbrella study showed that any type of cancer that had a certain genetic profile could be treated with this drug.”
“The changing design of clinical trials allows researchers to get answers faster,” says Jaime Richardson, a cancer clinical trial navigator at Cedars-Sinai. “That will hopefully result in getting better drugs to patients more quickly.”