New drugs may offer alternative to chemotherapy
THE early success of a new class of cancer drugs has raised hopes among the world's top cancer specialists that they may be on the verge of an important milestone in the fight against the disease.
The drugs, still in early testing, work in an entirely new way, by unleashing the immune system on cancer cells, much as it attacks bacteria. That could be an alternative to often-debilitating chemotherapy.
Although the data presented at a meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology was from the earliest stage of testing, the drugs were at the centre of attention, with some doctors predicting that cancer treatment was about to change.
Analysts, who predict billions of dollars in sales, are trying to determine which of the three front-runners - Merck, Bristol-Myers and Roche - have the best drug, and how soon the drugs can reach the market. Some think it could be as early as a year and a half from now.
"I think all of you recognise that this is a very special moment in oncology," Dr Roger Perlmutter, head of research and development at Merck, told analysts on Sunday at a standing-room-only meeting.
Harnessing the immune system is appealing for several reasons. It might be applicable to many different types of cancer. It might also lead to longer-lasting remissions than can be achieved with chemotherapy.