The changing world of oncology drug development—A global pharmaceutical company’s perspective
Recent approvals for oncology drugs have seen an increasing proportion directed to specific genetic targets identified with an associated companion diagnostic test. In addition, there is a wave of drugs directed against immune ‘checkpoints’ which promise to transform the way cancer is treated in the next decade. We can increase the probability of success in drug development based on a thorough mechanistic understanding of how a target drug affects cancer biology and the specific biological and genotypic context in which it operates. This article compares and contrasts the discovery and development of gefitinib—the first EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitor and AZD9291, an irreversible inhibitor of both sensitizing and resistant mutated EGFR. This demonstrates how the better understanding we now have of the genetic changes driving the cancer growth and the biochemical structure and function of the mutated proteins, has led to a much faster developmental path with higher likelihood of success in pivotal trials. An emerging trend in response to the challenge of the increasing segmentation of cancers based on their genetic makeup is the development of ‘basket’ studies which include one or more screening tests for multiple genetic aberrations and the direction of patients to one of several arms of a clinical trial based on the specific aberration in their tumor. In the face of both the wealth of genetic information about cancer and the challenges of drug development, collaboration across academia and industry is vital. There is great potential to benefit from more ‘open innovation’ to address some of these challenges and opportunities. Far from there being a decline in innovation in pharmaceutical development, I see that we are in one of the most exciting times in cancer drug development with innovation in every aspect of how we discover and develop new therapies.