CASE. Fight against cancer: the spectacular advances of researchers

Home CASE. Fight against cancer: the spectacular advances of researchers
Written by Doug Hampton

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The 2023 edition of the largest international cancer conference, organized by the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO), ended Tuesday evening in Chicago. Bringing together researchers from around the world, including many French people, this congress unveiled spectacular advances in the treatment of cancers with new methods.

The largest international cancer conference, organized by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), ended Tuesday evening in Chicago after four days during which researchers presented spectacular advances in the treatment of cancers. Among the 40,000 oncologists from all over the world were several French teams from different institutes, including those from the Toulouse University Hospital and the Toulouse Cancer University Institute (IUCT-Oncopole), whose work was the subject of 40 communications at the ASCO congresses, in particular on breast cancer, immunotherapy or the cutaneous side effects of cancer treatments.

This major congress unquestionably instilled hope in patients and their loved ones, cancer remaining a global scourge, since it is one of the main causes of death in the world with, according to figures from the World Health Organization Health (WHO) 10 million deaths in 2020, i.e. almost one in six deaths.

Breast cancer and new classes of targeted therapies

Currently, 30-50% of cancers can be prevented by avoiding risk factors and applying preventive strategies, according to the WHO. Detection – which is based on early diagnosis and screening – and rapid treatment of cases can reduce cancer-related mortality. Thus some of the most common types of cancer, such as breast cancer, cervical cancer, cancer of the oral cavity and colorectal cancer, have a high probability of recovery. The 2023 ASCO congress gave promising treatment prospects for other cancers with new therapeutic approaches.

Cancer figures in France

Cancer figures in France

Last Friday, the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis announced that Kisqali, its treatment against breast cancer, reduced the risk of recurrence by just over 25% in women diagnosed at an early stage of the disease. This medicinal product has been tested in addition to standard hormone therapy. The drug Verzenio from American competitor Eli Lilly has already been approved for the early treatment of women at high risk of recurrence after surgery.

The INDIGO phase III study, which opened the plenary session of the congress on Sunday, focused on the emergence of new classes of targeted therapies, in particular a molecule targeting diffuse grade 2 glioma, a cancer with Slow evolution affecting people who are still young, but to date incurable. “The current standard of care is based on chemotherapy and radiotherapy, which are not curative, or on a watch-and-wait strategy… and there has been no progress for more than twenty years,” Ingo recalled. Mellinghoff, neuro-oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and principal investigator of the INDIGO study, quoted by Pharmaceuticals magazine.

Lung cancer: a tablet to halve the risk of death

Also on Sunday, an important announcement was made concerning lung cancer, which causes the most deaths with approximately 1.8 million deaths every year worldwide. One tablet has been shown to halve the risk of death from a certain type of lung cancer when taken daily after surgery to remove the tumour. This treatment, developed by the pharmaceutical group AstraZeneca, osimertinib (marketed under the name Tagrisso), concerns patients suffering from so-called “non-small cell” cancer (the most common form), and presenting a particular type of mutation.

These mutations (on what is called the epidermal growth factor receptor, or EGF receptor) affect 10% to 25% of lung cancer patients in the United States and Europe, and 30% in 40% in Asia. The clinical trial included some 680 participants at an early stage of the disease (stages 1b to 3a), in more than 20 countries.

Result: taking the tablet resulted in a 51% reduction in the risk of death for treated patients, compared to placebo. After five years, 88% of patients who took the treatment were still alive, compared to 78% of patients who took the placebo.

Doctor-patient relationship

“We have entered the era of personalized therapies for early-stage patients and we should close the door to an undifferentiated treatment for all,” namely chemotherapy, said Nathan Pennell of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.

Finally, the congress also insisted on a crucial aspect: the relationship between patients and their doctors. Better inform patients, better reassure them about the evolution of cancer and improve their daily quality of life.

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