From hopeless to hyper-targeted, Salim Syed walks us through the evolution of cancer treatments— from early surgery in ancient times to the exciting prospects for immunotherapy, targeting tell-tale neoantigen proteins that identify cancer cells
Cancer has always been with us. In fact, if you got back to 1600 BC-and some would argue 2500 BC or 3000 BC-there's an Egyptian papyrus that once read, "There is no treatment," referring specifically to cancer.
I'm Salim Syed, Biotech analyst at Mizuho.
Over time, we've learned how to control cancer through various treatment modalities. It started off with surgery. Back in the ancient era. And surgery's even used today and this is as simple as going into where the tumor exists and pulling it out from the body. Moving from surgery, we went to radiotherapy. Radiotherapy started around in the 1890s or so. And that's essentially using radiation to either shrink or kill the tumor. From there we moved on to chemotherapy. Chemotherapy started around the 1940s or so. Chemotherapy kills both cancer cells as well as healthy cells. That's why it's so effective, but also has many side effects.
So the question was, could you get to more targeted therapy. And that's what came next. Targeted therapy came around the 1980s or so. And that was to get just to the cancer cells. Targeting just the diseased cells and leaving the healthy cells relatively more or less intact.
And most recently, immunotherapy's the newest bucket. It's actually existed since the 1980s, but more recently in modern times, immunotherapy has picked up just because of a few drugs that have come to the market.
Now within the immunotherapy category, there's a relatively new science called neoantigens. Neoantigens are a relatively new science. These neoantigen proteins only exist on cancerous cells. One company that is working in this space is Neon Therapeutics. With data coming July 2019, this will be an important catalyst for the entire neoantigen space.