After yesterday's post about the I-SPY trials in neoadjuvant therapy for breast cancer and how they may speed up the process of bringing new innovative cancer drugs to the clinic faster, I was reflecting on my own experiences with imatinib (Gleevec).   

The Philadelphia Chromosome was first identified in 1960 by Nowell and Hungerford. Gleevec was finally approved by the FDA in May 2001, 41 years later.   

Between 1999, when I arrived in the US and working in New Product Development at Novartis until 2001 when Gleevec was launched, I attended scientific meetings including AACR, ASH and ASCO. Often, Dr Judah Folkman, a scientific researcher from Harvard, would talk about angiogenesis and hypothesised that was the principal mechanism by which tumours grew. I listened to his ideas many times because I was curious and found the concept both fascinating and intuitive. There was a long line of drugs that failed to work though, and every meeting seemed to bring yet more negative results.

Now, Folkman first advanced the angiogenesis theory in 1971 in the New England Journal of Medicine, but it wasn't until 2002, when bevacizumab (Avastin), a VEGF inhibitor that prevented angiogenesis from happening, was finally approved for the treatment of colon cancer.   At that point you go, 'oh wow' and realise that Folkman's theory was indeed proven correct.

Thus a tale of two incredible cancer drugs that both took a relatively long time to evolve from scientific idea to effective treatment in people with cancer.  Or perhaps they were actually relatively 'quick' compared to others, but why it takes this long is something we can surely do better at. 

Last night I was researching ideas for drug development and innovation since the concept of bench to bedside fascinates me and came across this enlightening video from a lunchtime talk that Dr Susan Desmond-Hellmann gave last year at UCSF. Oddly, she seems to have trodden similar thought processes and asked why and how can we speed things up as well. 

The short lecture is well worth listening to for those interested in drug development – the good doctor explains the bench to bedside concept far better than I: 

Sources for scholars and clinical scientists:

The NEJM doesn't appear to go back beyond 1993 online, but the original reference to Folkman's article is at: 

Folkman J. Tumor angiogenesis: therapeutic implications. N Engl J Med 1971;285:1182-1186.

A more recent one from 1995, which provides an update is available online at: NEJM