Growth5 Blog

Friday, September 4, 2009

Big Pharma Takes On Cancer

This NY Times article focuses on big pharma's re-emergence into the cancer space. Pfizer has committed 1,000 researchers "for an all out effort to develop drugs for cancer, a disease the company once largely ignored."

The theory behind the move to the cancer space covers two areas:
1. "Recent scientific discoveries have suggested new targets for cancer drug researchers to attack."
However, these new targets can be hit and miss. The "same studies have shown that cancer is devilishly complicated. There are so many aberrant molecules in a tumor that blocking just one or two is like trying to stop all traffic in Manhattan with a roadblock at a single intersection."
2. "As drug companies see profits beginning to wane from mainstays like Lipitor, the high prices that cancer drugs can command have become an irresistible lure."
In some cases the benefit is minimal. "The drug Tarceva, which costs about $3,500 a month, was approved as a treatment for pancreatic cancer because it improved survival by 12 days."

OncoVAX, the main product of our portfolio company, Vaccinogen, is based on the fact that cancers are a heterogeneous (diverse) class of diseases. OncoVAX is a patient-specific treatment, using the patient's own tumor to create a vaccine that unleashes the body's own immune system to fight a cancer that it otherwise would not recognize.

As a colon cancer vaccine, OncoVAX works prophylactically (prevents disease) and is used to treat patients with early stage disease to prevent recurrence rather than attempting to use a vaccine to cure patients with late stage diseases.

Approximately one out of every three Stage II colon cancer patients will have their cancer return after surgery, and they will die. OncoVAX changes those odds to only one out of ten -- a benefit not measured in days or months, but in years, the rest of the patient's life.

I truly hope that big pharma finds ways to help cancer patients all over the world. I personally believe their approach is a bit flawed -- curing cancer is an overwhelming task since for the most part everyone's cancer is different. As investors, we're not completely impartial, but I think big pharma could learn a lot from the immunotherapy approach taken by Dr. Hanna and his team at the small biotech firm, Vaccinogen, in Frederick, MD.

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