Here’s something that’ll make cancer patients want to whip their hair: there may be hope for those fearing hair loss as a side effect of chemotherapy. In a study performed with mice, researchers were able to use a hair-promoting protein to prevent fur loss after mice were dosed with a common chemotherapy agent. There are actually already treatments that address this side effect—like cooling caps which prevent chemo drugs from getting to the scalp—but they come with varying effectiveness rates so another option would be welcome. Again, the study was in mice, so human trials probably aren’t in the immediate future, but let’s not split hairs—this is cool.
Pfizer and Cipla are teaming up with the American Cancer Society and the Clinton Health Access Initiative to provide cheap chemotherapy drugs to six nations in Africa that have been hit the hardest by treatable cancers. They’re taking inspiration from Pepfar, which is the (US) President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and not a program designed to export pep rallies far across the globe. Pepfar is responsible for many of the 14 million Africans who now have access to HIV medications, and the above collaboration is keen to replicate that kind of success. The drug companies will sell 16 generic chemotherapies at a fraction of what they cost in more well-off countries—minimizing profits, but maximizing positive PR. Needless to say: well done, all involved.
There’s some debate as to whether cancer patients should have drugs that are proven to work, or whether instead they should have access to as many drugs as possible that might work. At least that’s what we’ve gathered from a recent study identifying that more than half of cancer drugs approved by the EMA between 2009 and 2013 showed no benefits for either survival or quality of life. While that’s not extremely terrible considering, 1) the EMA focuses on timely patient access to new drugs and, 2) trials focusing on survival outcomes are expensive and (more importantly) time-consuming, one has to wonder if we can’t do better than half. Otherwise we’re just provoking cancer patients to the point of rampage.
You know all those dang bacteria in your body, living there without permission, without even one of the 3.9 x 1013 of them offering to contribute to rent? Turns out about 1 in 9 of those freeloaders can neutralize gemcitabine, a pancreatic cancer drug, before it gets to work on cancer cells. While that means killing those bacteria results in a non-inhibited drug delivery, it’s not a great solution. Not only do some cancer drugs depend on the presence of other, benign microbes in your body, but using antibiotics could lead to resistance in those bacteria. And the only thing worse than bacteria-filled tumors are antibiotic-resistant bacteria-filled tumors. Hey, at least now we know what the problem is.
We’ve done a full 360 on Zika. In early 2016, the WHO declared Zika to be a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern.” Less than two years later we’re just injecting it into brains willy-nilly to see what it does. To be fair, it does seem to kill glioblastomas pretty effectively, so we’ll give mad scientists a pass this time. Still, the Zika crisis did seem to peter out quickly in the Americas, at least quicker than US government investors expected. Without any real epidemic threat from the virus forthcoming, funding for the government and Sanofi’s vaccine development partnership has dried up. There are still two vaccine candidates from GSK and Takeda in development, but the decision has been criticized as short-sighted.
The current process we use for determining the boundary between cancerous and healthy cells during surgery—frozen section procedure—has been around for over 100 years. Let that sink in. While we’re sure there have been vast improvements in optimizing the procedure in the past century, it still takes about 30 minutes to prepare and analyze a section. That’s a lot of extra time to stay under for surgery. Well researchers at The University of Texas at Austin decided they wanted to make that time faster—about 150 times faster. Their device, the MasSpec Pen, is reportedly able to make the analysis within 10 seconds, is more accurate than FSP, and allows for more precision during tissue removal. Nice work, Longhorns.
Last week, the FDA approved Novartis’ Kymriah—a “living drug” that works by making immune cells realize they should get rid of those pesky leukemia cells making a mess of things. We’ve been following this story since June, because it’s really cool for a couple reasons. First, it marks the first time a gene therapy has been approved for use in the US, although more CAR-T treatments are in the pipeline. Second, the treatment is designated for the most prevalent form of childhood cancer in the US—acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). There is a bit of worry that the treatment is prohibitively expensive, which is what sunk the first gene therapy approved in the EU, but maybe competition will help drop prices.