While significant progress has been made in the treatment of cancer, there is still a long way to go. Cancer has been the second leading cause of death among Americans for almost a decade.1 This year in the United States alone, it is estimated there will be more than 600,000 cancer-related deaths.2
In this article, we unravel four trends that are paving the way for future innovations, as they hold the key to moving cancer treatment forward. We’ll explore approaches from the frontiers of science such as immuno-oncology, translational research and data science and a different way of working together to nurture innovation. Researchers are actively using these approaches with a goal of creating the next generation of treatments and ensuring that every patient gets the right treatment at the right time with the best chance of winning their fight against cancer.
Teaching the immune system to take on cancer
Our immune systems evolved to identify and fight foreign pathogens like viruses and bacteria but differentiating between a healthy cell and a cancerous one is a different challenge altogether. Today, the latest research is uncovering the potential to teach the immune system to recognize cancer as foreign to the body and join the fight against deadly tumors. For example, researchers in the biopharma industry are exploring specialized vaccines that can strengthen the body’s immune system against developing certain types of cancer3 and companies like Genmab are spearheading research on targeted antibodies that can be designed to help the immune system recognize and destroy cancer cells. Immuno-oncology innovations such as these hold immense promise to reshape the future of cancer treatment.
“Targeted antibodies – including bispecific antibodies – provide an enormously exciting opportunity for novel drug design. It is possible to engineer antibodies to provide a variety of ways to achieve anti-tumor activity. Antibodies currently in development have the potential to directly kill tumor cells, engage immune cells, deliver payloads to tumors or block tumor signaling pathways.4”
Dr. Tahamtan Ahmadi, Chief Medical Officer, Genmab
Translating clinical insights into targeted innovations
Translational research, often referred to as bench to bedside, is a multidisciplinary approach that can turn scientific research into practical application, with a goal to improve outcomes for patients. The process involves two-way information sharing as research scientists gain insights from patients to develop new treatment options and better understand which patients are likely to benefit from specific types of treatments.
“The “one-size-fits-all” approach to cancer care simply is not good enough in the 21st century. Every patient journey is different and translational research allows us to treat it as such.”
Kate Sasser, Ph.D., Head of Translational Research and Precision Medicine, Genmab
In oncology, translational research is a critical approach that has the potential to arm researchers with insights to tailor treatments to specific patients, allowing for a far more personalized approach to delivering cancer care.
Putting data to work for researchers and patients
Data science has allowed researchers to identify previously underappreciated trends and insights, and it is transforming our understanding of diseases such as cancer and autoimmune illnesses. Advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning are making it possible to integrate and analyze the vast amount of complex data resulting from different stages of the drug development process. These advances can automate insight generation in novel ways with a goal to make informed, data-driven decisions.
“Data science is not a hype; it is being used to make novel medicines that have the potential to fundamentally transform patients’ lives. There are vast untapped opportunities to use real world data alongside clinical research to better understand cancer – its composition, how it evolves and what researchers like us should be tirelessly focusing our efforts on.”
Hisham Hamadeh, Ph.D., Global Head of Data Science, Genmab
Integrated data at scales never imagined before have an unprecedented potential to improve and accelerate the development of medicines — from identifying novel targets and product concepts — to understanding the efficacy of new treatments at a macro and molecular level — to help improve the design of clinical trials to better reflect the real world.
Collaborating for Innovation
The last trend shaping cancer care is not a new scientific development, but a different outlook on how innovation can — and should — happen. For a long time, companies have worked in siloes, using mergers and acquisitions to acquire outside knowledge.
But in recent years — and especially during the Covid-19 pandemic — many companies are relying on collaboration and partnership as powerful tools to accelerate agile and impactful innovation.
“As an industry, we know that innovation can’t be sustained by building walls. The more diverse information and insights we can bring into our innovation ecosystem, the greater the impact we can make for patients.”
Dr. Judith Klimovsky, Chief Development Officer, Genmab
Understanding the power of partnership within the life sciences ecosystem – has proven successful for companies like Genmab. With more than 20 collaborations, for Genmab partnerships have been foundational to its approach since the very beginning. The biotech has continued to forge new collaborations with companies in data science, biotech, pharma, and academia with a goal to share knowledge, skills and resources that can allow it to apply its expertise and pioneer exciting new avenues for cancer research.
1 Zaorsky NG, Churilla TM, Egleston BL, et al. Causes of death among cancer patients. Ann Oncol. 2017;28(2):400-407. doi:10.1093/annonc/mdw604
2 American Cancer Society: Cancer Facts & Statistics. American Cancer Society | Cancer Facts & Statistics. https://cancerstatisticscenter.cancer.org/#!/. Accessed April 25, 2022.
3 What are cancer vaccines? Cancer.Net. https://www.cancer.net/
4 Zahavi D, Weiner L. Monoclonal Antibodies in Cancer Therapy. Antibodies (Basel). 2020 Jul 20;9(3):34. doi: 10.3390/antib9030034. PMID: 32698317; PMCID: PMC7551545.