The brain is among the most complex organs of the human body, and brain tumors can be extremely difficult to treat. Unlike other forms of cancer we are limited in the ability to treat brain tumors by the ‘blood-brain barrier’ designed to keep chemicals – including many medicines – from passing into the brain.
But biopharmaceutical researchers are committed to improving the outlook for this disease despite the challenges. A recent PhRMA report found that in the area of brain cancer there were 75 potential medicines halted in clinical trials between 1998 and 2014. This compares with three new medicine approvals in that time.
Decades of research have provided limited treatment options for patients facing, aggressive forms of brain cancer but it has not been for lack of effort or investment. And researchers are learning from each of these setbacks and continue the work today with more than 50 medicines in the pipeline.
One new approach making headlines draws on the progress being made in gene therapies, or what research refers to as “living drugs.” This approach to treatment uses a patient’s own immune system cells to fight the cancer – cells are extracted, re-engineered and returned to the patient. While this work is currently focused on treating advanced leukemia and lymphoma, experts are hopeful that it will eventually be used to treat cancer more broadly, and specifically glioblastoma.
Today, the five-year survival rate for glioblastoma patients over age 55 is just 4 percent, according to the American Cancer Society. While that figure is daunting, it’s also what powers the leading minds at the forefront of innovation – working toward a day when that statistic becomes history.