Vice President Joe Biden took his National Cancer Moonshot work to the Vatican today, asking other nations around the world to help US efforts to conquer the disease. “There are immense possibilities fully within our reach that did not exist even five years ago,” he said to a crowd of researchers and physicians. The Moonshot is the US government’s program to raise funding for eight areas of cancer research, including industry darling immunotherapy (which rallies the body’s own defenses against cancer), detection, and vaccines. So how is Big Pharma responding to the big push for a cure?
Turns out it’s making some big moves, or at least trying to. French pharmaceutical Sanofi made an unsolicited $9.3 billion offer to buy California-based Medivation yesterday; the bid was rejected, but Sanofi is no stranger to hostile takeovers, and it remains committed to the pursuit. Medivation is attractive to Sanofi (and possibly others), not only because of its blockbuster prostate cancer drug Xtandi, but also because it has more cancer treatments in its pipeline.
Also this week biopharmaceutical giant AbbVie plans to buy Stemcentrx, a biotech startup that is developing drugs targeting cancer stem cells, in a deal worth up to $10 billion. (This price tag makes the deal the second-largest venture capital-backed acquisition ever.) AbbVie is interested in Stemcentrx because of the early successes of its uncommon methods. It has been working on its blood cancer program with the recent approvals of elotuzumab and Venclexta, as well as last year’s acquisition of Pharmacyclics.
Sanofi, AbbVie, and other big drugmakers are always on the lookout for new products to beef up their aging portfolios, but it looks as though oncology is the hot arena. Roche recently partnered up with Blueprint Medicines in a $1 billion deal to develop and commercialize five kinase molecules targeting multiple types of cancers. And AstraZeneca plans to cut spending by $1 billion while increasing its focus on cancer drugs.
Thanks to recent advances in understanding what drives cancer, oncology is the fastest-growing area of pharmaceutical research. It’s enough to spur on partnerships between public and private entities, universities, researchers, philanthropists, investors, and even banks. Collaboration is key — participants will need to share their findings to avoid redundancy. Swiss bank UBS has a $471 million venture fund aiming to finance new cancer drugs, ushering them from discovery to late-stage clinical testing and, ultimately, commercialization.
What differentiates President Obama’s cancer program from Nixon’s 1971 National Cancer Act? It’s as if researchers have taken a quantum leap, making the seemingly impossible seem less, well, impossible. Our understanding of cancer in terms of genomics and molecular biology has matured greatly, advancing scientists’ position in the fight. And that allows us to see glimmers of hope for the future.
Diane Ramirez has been a member of the D&B editorial department for more than a decade. She currently covers the health care and insurance industries for Hoover’s.