Cancer drug development is evolving rapidly. As the upcoming American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting will attest, most major drug makers are in pipeline to introduce new oncology drugs. Most of these will be immuno-oncology drugs.
Generally, these drugs work by triggering the immune system, enabling it to recognize cancer cells and destroy them. The class has achieved unprecedented efficacy in a broad range of cancers and is paving the way for an array of cancer therapies that harness similar mechanisms.
This provides a much-needed new treatment approach alongside chemotherapy and targeted oncology drugs, which tend to lose efficacy over time.
Many of the immuno-oncology drugs target the programmed cell death 1 receptor (PD-1), which is expressed mainly by cells from the immune system.
According to Dr. Antoni Ribas, study’s first author, a professor of hematology and oncology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and director of the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center Tumor Immunology Program, PD-1 is responsible for inhibiting the immune response to cancer cells, avoiding aggravated immune reactions.
Administration of pembrolizumab (trade name Keytruda) targets PD-1 which eventually releases immune cells from PD-1 inhibitory functions, allowing them to target and destroy the cancer cells.
Overall, immuno-oncology is triggering a seismic shift that is poised to exceed the advances we have seen with the arrival of targeted therapies. Reflecting this, analysts are forecasting the immune-oncology market to grow to over $20 billion by 2022. All told, by 2022, the top 15 cancer drugs are expected to collectively garner almost $90 billion in sales.
To put that in perspective, it represents almost one-fourth of the entire U.S. pharma market in 2014, according to Quintiles IMS data. It is also bigger than pharma’s haul in Japan or China for that year.
Even as the immuno-oncology medicines have ascended, 9 of the top-selling 15 drugs in 2022 will still be monoclonal antibodies, the targeted therapies.
Approved first in the late 1990s, these therapies quickly became the preferred option for various cancers, and particularly blood cancer. That said, the impact of immuno-oncology drugs is yet to be seen and can have a drastic effect on the list of top 15 best-selling cancer drugs in 2022.