Global biopharma Genentech, which became a member of the Roche Group in 2009, has been delivering on the biotechnology promise for more than 35 years, leading to the discovery, development, manufacture and commercialization of a range of medicines for treating patients with serious or life-threatening medical conditions, including various cancers.
To demonstrate some of the progress achieved, Genentech has posted an interactive multimedia presentation online titled “Cancer Will Lose: A Visual Exploration of the Collective Efforts Against Cancer: Past, Present and Potential Future Breakthroughs.”
“Through collective efforts, progress is being made so that cancer will fade into history,” said Dietmar Berger, M.D., senior vice president and Genentech’s global head of clinical development for hematology and oncology, in the video prologue.
“I know it may not always seem like it — the disease will claim the lives of nearly 600,000 Americans this year — but the tide is turning. Consider this: In 1975, fewer than half of people diagnosed with cancer lived five years past their diagnosis. By 2012, more than two-thirds of people with cancer saw five more birthdays. Over the past 40 years, millions of lives have been saved through lifestyle changes, education, screening, and groundbreaking science,” he said.
The presentation explores how individual and collective action has impacted cancer mortality in the United States, beginning with progress against specific cancer types and contributions of certain people and organizations.
The authors proceed to review changes in cancer mortality patterns in the U.S. nationally and individually in major urban centers, and examine the near exponential rise in the number of clinical trials for cancer immunotherapies, which offer the promise of ushering in a new era of treatment.
Genentech notes that the modern fight against cancer in America was launched with the National Cancer Act in 1971, which shifted cancer research and care onto the national stage, and that since the act was passed, remarkable achievements in cancer prevention, screening and treatment have been achieved. These advances have not derived solely from the work of scientists and doctors alone, the presentation notes, pointing to improvements in cancer mortality rates attributable to societal shifts in behavior in terms of exercise, healthier eating, fewer people smoking, and government regulations of the use of dangerous materials. Also, people with cancer are participating in clinical trials, and advocacy groups are working to promote greater cancer awareness and education.
Despite these developments, cancer remains a national public health crisis, but Genentech maintains that as the nation renews its commitment against the disease with the National Cancer Moonshot Initiative, it’s important to recognize where progress has been made and evaluate what must be addressed in the future.
Based on the most current available data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health’s clinical trial registry (http://www.gene.com/breakthrough/), the authors note that cancer mortality peaked in the U.S. in 1991, with the cancer death rate dropping 23 percent since that time, which translates into 1.7 million lives saved from 1991 to 2012. They observe that much of this improvement can be attributed to several factors, including a diminishing use of tobacco, improvements in detection of cancers such as colon cancer, and treatments of certain types of solid tumors and lymphoma.
Readers can use an interactive graph to explore how mortality rates for particular cancer types have changed over the past 40 years. For example, mortality from colon cancer has plummeted sharply, while mortality reductions have been more gradual for prostate cancer, are almost non-existent for bladder cancer, but unfortunately have worsened for liver cancer.
The rates shown by the graph are age-adjusted, making it possible to fairly compare statistics in various states despite their different age demographics. For instance, a state with an older population will skew toward a higher death rate in general, with that difference accounted for in an adjustment.
Another graph shows that while cancer mortality is declining in the U.S., progress against the disease has not been consistent across the country, with mortality rates of different cancers at a state level as reported by the CDC.
Immunotherapy: The Next Frontier
Genentech observes that cancer is a disease rooted in the imperfection of human biology, so it’s fitting that one of the keys to defeating it may be from within that same biology, citing “unprecedented excitement” among doctors and scientists around a class of medicines called cancer immunotherapies, which work by harnessing the formidable power of the body’s own immune system to recognize and destroy cancer.
“Immunotherapies are the result of the bravery of everyone who participates in research — the scientists working in the lab, the doctors and nurses overseeing the studies, and especially the patients and their families who bravely participate in clinical trials,” the presenters observe. “The advent of cancer immunotherapy is just one example of how the next breakthroughs in cancer come from all of us working together.”
They particularly acknowledge those who participate in clinical trials as “the unsung heroes in the discovery of new treatments,” noting that unfortunately, many myths and misconceptions dissuade people from enrolling in clinical trials. In collaboration with the American Cancer Society, Genentech has developed a program called “About Clinical Trials” which addresses these myths by empowering people to learn more about cancer clinical trials. For more information, including a clinical trial matching service, go to:
Genentech reports that there are more than 3,000 active cancer clinical trials currently evaluating nearly 800 medications in the U.S.. noting that these trials are the front lines of cancer research and may lead to the next major advancement in the fight against cancer.
You can access the Genentech “Cancer Will Lose” presentation at: