FDA urges drug companies to explore more unproven approaches in the cancer drug market

A new type of cancer drug that stimulates the immune system to fight off tumors allowed for huge breakthroughs for drug companies, but one top U.S. regulator believes too many companies are focused on the same approach.

The therapies are designed to disable the PD-1 protein that tumors use to evade the immune system. Around 20 percent of advanced cancer patients respond to the new drugs, with some even having lasting remission.

The FDA approved these treatment methods from Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Roche Holding AG. Each company lists their treatment at $150,000 per year. At least five other drug makers are also currently developing similar medicines.

Richard Pazdur, MD, head of the FDA's office of oncology products, explains that the huge success of a few drug manufacturers in the $110 billion market for cancer treatments makes it attractive for rival companies to develop similar therapies instead of investing heavily in unproven approaches.

"People should ask themselves...would we be better off spending those resources into looking at more novel drugs?" Dr. Pazdur said in an interview with Reuters.

Drug company executives disputed Dr. Pazdur's critique, arguing that the science around cancer is advancing rapidly with a large focus on how to best combine therapies to attack multiple mechanisms of the disease.

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