The first drugs designed to stop cancer cells becoming resistant to treatment may be available within the next decade.
The BBC reports that a £75 million investment to develop the drugs has been announced by the London-based Institute of Cancer Research (ICR).
The new drugs could make cancer a manageable disease in the long term and more often curable, said ICR chief executive Professor Paul Workman.
“Cancer’s ability to adapt, evolve and become drug resistant is the cause of the vast majority of deaths from the disease and the biggest challenge we face in overcoming it,” he said.
“We will create exciting new ways of meeting the challenge of cancer evolution head-on, by blocking the entire process of evolutionary diversity, using AI and maths to herd cancer into more treatable forms, and tackling cancer with multi-drug combinations as used successfully against HIV and tuberculosis.
“We firmly believe that, with further research, we can find ways to make cancer a manageable disease in the long term and one that is more often curable, so patients can live longer and with a better quality of life,” he said.
More cancer patients are living longer and with fewer side effects through new targeted cancer treatments, said Dr Olivia Rossanese, who will be head of Biology in the new Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery.
“But unfortunately, we’re also seeing that cancer can become resistant very quickly to new drugs – and this is the greatest challenge we face,” she said.
“Within the Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery, we plan to deliver a drug discovery programme that is wholly focused on meeting the challenge of cancer evolution and drug resistance through completely new ways of attacking the disease.
“This ‘Darwinian’ approach to drug discovery gives us the best chance yet of defeating cancer, because we will be able to predict what cancer is going to do next and get one step ahead.
“We believe this will be the first treatment in the world that rather than dealing with the consequences of cancer’s evolution and resistance, aims to directly confront the disease’s ability to adapt and evolve in the first place,” she said.
Cancer in South Africa
The number of Discovery Health Medical Scheme (DHMS) claiming for cancer treatment has almost doubled since 2010, it said in a report in April.
Discovery has 2.8 million members, which represents 31% of the total medical scheme population and 56% of the open scheme population.
36,783 of these members actively claimed for oncology treatment in the past 12 months, with the scheme paying out R3.4 billion over this time period.
“The number of members receiving treatment for cancer has increased by 99% since 2010, while the membership of the scheme has only increased by 24%,” Discovery said.
“This indicates a combination of increasing incidence of cancer as well as anti-selection.”
Discovery said that breast cancer is the most common cancer for the period with 12,148 members claiming for treatment, while prostate cancer saw the greatest increase in claimants (9.6%) from the previous period.