Our lung cancer lawyers strive to stay on top of the ever-evolving advancements in cancer research, treatment and development. Recently, three big-name investors have invested hundreds of millions of dollars on new cancer institutions. Clinical trials focused on immunotherapy are also offering a new hope for individualized treatments. Below, we detail what we’ve learned and how it could affect our current lung cancer clients.
Big Names and Big Money
Sean Parker – the first president of Facebook and co-founder of Napster – recently put $250 million into a network of immuno-oncology institutions and leading researchers. The Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy will collaborate with more than 300 researchers from six of the country’s top cancer centers, along with efforts from more than 40 laboratories.
Establishing this type of collaborative alliance will allow any breakthrough in research to be made available at all institutions in the network, without fear of intellectual property issues or drowning in paperwork. The alliance will center on immunotherapy, which is an emerging field of cancer treatment we have written extensively about (here, here and here).
The Parker Institute will focus on three areas of research:
- Using patients’ T-cells to target tumors
- Identifying new targets to attack tumors
- Studying how to improve patients’ response to current immunotherapy drugs.
Researchers will also be able to conduct clinical trials as a team and funnel any profits on new drugs and discoveries back into the Institute. It will be headed by Jeff Bluestone, currently a professor at UCSF.
Immunotherapy is considered the most promising new approach to cancer treatment. Michael Bloomberg and other philanthropists recently donated $125 million to Johns Hopkins University for a new immuno-oncology center. The Bloomberg-Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy will focus on lung, breast, ovarian, colon, pancreatic, melanoma and urologic cancers.
The other billionaire making headlines for his cancer contributions is Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle. He pledged $200 million to help fund an oncology research center at USC. The new cancer research center, the Lawrence J. Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine, will be run by Larry Angus, who currently runs USC’s Westside Cancer Center and the Center for Applied Molecular Medicine.
Their goal is to bring together experts from different fields to work collaboratively and create a more holistic approach to cancer research, treatment and care. This includes the role of diet and nutrition along with molecular biology, genetics, and art therapy. Like Parker’s cancer center, this collaborative approach will give researchers a chance to do more with less red tape. The Center will break ground in six months, in November 2016.
These billionaire-funded institutes allow researchers to devote their time entirely to their work, rather than working to secure grants and funding. Allowing researchers at top institutions to collaborate freely will, ideally, quicken progress by giving researchers access to the newest information and technology at all times.
Although researchers have studied immunotherapy for decades, one of the most significant problems they face is understanding why it works so well for some patients and not at all for others. Currently, only between 20 to 30% of cancer patients respond to immunotherapies.
These patients – the minority that do respond – are referred to as “exceptional responders.” Although we categorize cancers by site or type (small-cell lung cancer; non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma), each cancer is truly specific to the patient. The closer scientists examine tumors, the more unique mutations they find, to the point where it’s impossible to count the different variations.
When a treatment is perfectly aligned to the specific set of mutations driving a patient’s tumor, the patient responds exceptionally well. This is why the 20-30% of immunotherapy patients who respond to the treatment do so remarkably well.
Now, researchers are trying to track exceptional responders, what mutations their tumors show and how the drugs stopped it. The goal is to reconstruct their response to gain insight that could help other patients with similar mutations.
Many of these tests are being done in clinical trials. Thousands of clinical trials are open to patients throughout the country, and the opportunity can be substantially beneficial – even life-saving – but the risk is high. There is always chance you could not respond in any meaningful way to the drugs.
A few years ago, full genetic sequencing became easier and cheaper, so now doctors can order sequencing for any patient to read their entire genetic code. Doctors are understanding, now more than ever, that cancer needs to be fought on an individualized basis, using information on what mutations are driving the tumors, rather than using general, traditional therapies.
Broadly, this idea is called precision medicine. Big Pharma is pumping billions of dollars into this type of approach hoping to reap massive profits. We now understand that how cancer forms and progresses is largely genetic. This explains why someone exposed to asbestos briefly in their childhood develops mesothelioma, but a former asbestos mine worker does not. They both inhaled a carcinogen; one of them was simply more vulnerable.
New clinical trials, new cancer institutes, and initiatives like the $1 billion National Cancer Moonshot, will bring significant advances to cancer treatment. Approaching research and development as a collaborative effort – as the new billionaire-funded centers aim to – will only help this growth. We are excited to report on these advances, and will update this blog accordingly.
Our lung cancer lawyers have been representing patients for 30 years. We represent clients nationwide, and have secured millions of dollars for victims of asbestos exposure. If you have any questions about lung cancer, mesothelioma, asbestosis, or any other asbestos-related illness, contact our firm for a free consultation today.