One of the areas of cancer treatment in which researchers are making extraordinarily rapid progress is immunotherapy, which refers to the use of therapeutics that harness the power of a patient’s own immune system to treat his or her cancer. These revolutionary anticancer therapeutics include seven of the therapeutics to gain FDA approvals in 2018. Including these approvals, the number of types of cancer that can be treated by at least one immunotherapeutic has more than tripled in the past decade, increasing from just six to 20.
Discoveries that deepen our understanding of cancer biology are continuing to catalyze the development of new therapeutics that target specific molecules involved in cancer and to expand the use of those agents that have already been approved. These anticancer therapeutics are referred to as molecularly targeted therapeutics. Eighteen such therapeutics gained FDA approvals in 2018, including larotrectinib (Vitrakvi), which is the first molecularly targeted therapeutic to be approved for use based solely on whether a patient has a tumor with certain molecular characteristics rather than where in the body the tumor originated. Molecularly targeted therapeutics are part of the precision medicine revolution that is ensuring that more and more people live longer, higher-quality lives after a cancer diagnosis, including Ron Scolamiero (above).
Another two anticancer therapeutics to gain FDA approvals in 2018 are providing oncologists with an exciting new way to use radiotherapy to treat neuroendocrine tumors. These pioneering targeted radiotherapeutics are benefiting many patients, including Nicole DiCamillo (right).
The AACR is proud to have helped catalyze the progress made against cancer in 2018 through its many programs, services, and initiatives. For example, early data from one of the trials that led to the November 2018 approval of larotrectinib for treating certain patients with solid tumors that have a particular type of NTRK gene mutation were presented at the AACR Annual Meeting 2016.
With the number of cancer cases diagnosed in the United States rising every year, it is vital that the AACR increase public understanding of cancer and the importance of cancer research for saving lives. The annual AACR Cancer Progress Report is a cornerstone of these educational efforts and the AACR’s efforts to advocate for increased annual federal funding by government entities that fuel progress against cancer and improve public health, in particular the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Cancer Institute (NCI), FDA, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The AACR Cancer Progress Report 2018 achieves these goals by chronicling how federally funded research discoveries ignited progress against cancer over a 12-month period. The report also highlights that unwavering, bipartisan support from Congress, in the form of robust, sustained, and predictable annual increases in funding for the NIH, NCI, FDA, and CDC, is vital if we are to save more lives from cancer.
As AACR President (2018–2019) Elizabeth M. Jaffee, MD, FAACR, noted in the AACR Cancer Progress Report 2018, “Enlisting experts from an even broader spectrum of disciplines, including physics, chemistry, engineering, mathematics, and computer science, will significantly accelerate the pace of progress in the future.”
A featured survivor in the AACR Cancer Progress Report 2018, Nicole DiCamillo was diagnosed with gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumor—a rare type of cancer, which used to be called carcinoid cancer, that can arise in the pancreas or in other parts of the gastrointestinal tract—at the age of 27. For the next 12 years she underwent surgeries, chemoembolizations, radiofrequency ablations, and other treatments, which kept the cancer at bay but did not control the debilitating symptoms it caused. In 2016, Nicole began a targeted radiation treatment called Lutathera, which delivers a radioisotope directly to the cancer cells after it has been infused or injected:
“Over the years, I have had many treatments that have controlled the cancer, [but] none stopped the stomach and intestinal issues that greatly reduced my quality of life. Then, in 2016, I started seeing a new doctor and received four treatments of [the radioisotope] Lutathera through a compassionate use program.
Lutathera has changed my life…. Not only is it shrinking the tumors, it is allowing me to live a normal life with my husband and kids. I never take days off work. I coach my son’s soccer team. I watch my kids’ concerts. I couldn’t even have dreamed of doing these things before Lutathera. It is the best thing that has happened for me and for my family.”
Video: Learn more about Nicole’s story.
— Elizabeth M. Jaffee, MD, FAACR,
AACR President (2018-2019)
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2018