I’ve gone on record to say that by 2025, cancer researchers will have developed curative therapeutic approaches for most if not all cancers.
I took some flak for putting that stake in the ground. But we in the cancer research field are making incredible strides toward better and safer, potentially curative treatments for cancer, and I’m excited for what’s next. I believe that we must set a high bar, execute and implement — that there should be no excuses for not advancing the field at that pace.
2017 was a landmark year for accelerating cancer cures, ushering in a spate of new FDA approvals for cancer drugs. These include approval of two different CAR T-cell therapies — a type of cancer immunotherapy that uses a patient’s own engineered immune cells to attack and kill cancer cells. All of us at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center were thrilled to see those announcements. They are an initial validation of what we and our colleagues around the world have been working toward for decades. More importantly, they offer potentially lifesaving therapies for some cancer patients with historically limited options for treatment.
The key phrase in that sentence, by the way, is some patients. The cellular immunotherapies Kymriah and Yescarta were approved to treat a type of advanced pediatric leukemia and aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphoma, respectively. And we know that while these two therapies are a great advance over previously available treatments, not all patients will respond to them. And of those who do respond, some experience serious side effects.
That leaves many more patients and cancers to treat and cure safely. Immunotherapy holds promise to tackle many of these other cancer types, but one approach is not enough to cure cancer. We will need a convergence of different expertise, new research methods and strong data science to reach the goal of cures for more patients.
At Fred Hutch, our researchers are testing tomorrow’s cancer treatments at the laboratory bench or in clinical trials today. Last year, we saw some remarkable research advances from our own labs that hint at what’s next on the horizon. As 2018 kicks off, my colleagues and I are keeping a close eye on a few promising areas of cancer research and treatment — and of course, doing our part to help usher in these advances as swiftly as we can.