The war on cancer, like its sister metaphor-wars on drugs and poverty, is no longer being won.
Targeted drugs, which it was hoped would be hugely successful by being tailored to each patient's genetic make-up - so-called molecular medicine - have only had limited success. On average these new treatments have typically only extended life for a number of months as the cancers rapidly develop resistance to these new treatments:
More worryingly, the cost of such treatments is so prohibitive as to likely prevent widespread access to the drugs on patients relying on taxpayer-funded drug payment schemes. Vemurafenib treatment costs well in excess of €100,000 annually. Even if there weren't a depression, no amount of pressure from the likes of the Liveline mob would ensure the health service could provide access to such high-tech drugs for every patient.Doctors reported apparently miraculous results from the use of the BRAF-inhibitor vemurafenib in advanced malignant melanoma, a usually fatal form of skin cancer. Within two weeks, the tumours had melted away.
"But six months later, [the cancer] is back with a vengeance," he said.
Other drugs working in a similar way – including erlotinib (Tarceva) for a form of lung cancer, bevacizumab (Avastin) for breast, colorectal and other cancers, and sunitinib (Sutent) for renal cell carcinoma and gastrointestinal sarcoma – have also not done so well, said Hanahan. Resistance to the drugs builds up, sometimes very quickly.
And there doesn't seem to be any big new hope for a cure outside molecular medicine:
The experts stress that the best hope we have of tackling the disease is prevention, not cures: Cancer fight stalls amid push for profits, doctors say | Society | The Guardian"Decades ago, genuine breakthrough drugs were discovered which continue to have a huge impact on the disease," however "the excitement generated by targeted drugs, which interfere with specific molecules involved in tumour growth and suppression, has been short-lived."
"'If the question was whether the world was winning the war on cancer,' said Douglas Hanahan of the Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research, who outlined the latest state of drug research, 'in general, for most forms of human cancer, the answer is clearly no.'"