Cancer Drugs: Are Manufacturers Still Dedicated to "Finding a Cure"?

In its ongoing series of articles about the struggle to defeat cancer, the New York Times yesterday chronicled Pfizer's headlong dive into the cancer drug market. There are two major trends that are pushing Pfizer and other manufacturers to invest heaviliy in oncology. One is the plethora of promising drug targets out there, and Pfizer more than anyone else has always been keen on snatching up successful candidates and making them its own. The other trend is one that we are all too familiar with: the end of the blockbuster era, and manufacturers' pursuit of new and varied revenue streams. Cancer drugs cost a lot, and insurers are willing to pay, so to the victors in the market will go ample spoils.

The problem is, as the Times' Andrew Pollack explains, is that there are so many candidates in development, and so little actual (ie, profitable) room on the market, that somewhat of a cancer drug bubble has been created. With so many competitors, and so few prizes, so many companies and their shareholders will get burned. (Pfizer, with its deep pockets, stands to fare better than most.)

He writes: "About 860 cancer drugs are being tested in clinical trials, according to the pharmaceutical industry’s main trade group. That is more than twice the number of experimental drugs for heart disease and stroke combined, nearly twice as many as for AIDS and all other infectious diseases combined, and nearly twice as many as for Alzheimer's and all other neurological diseases combined."

There's an emotional attachment we all have towards cancer research and drug development, so "the more the better" is the common view. But as the Times also points out, the rush to provide cures for cancer has become more about getting products, any products, to market, rather than about efficacy and "finding a cure". It's a deflating thought for those research and manufacturing professionals who sometimes devote their whole careers to cancer drugs.



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