Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Miracle Cures That Weren't

Radiation therapy Soon after Wilhelm Roentgen's discovery of X-rays in 1895, some doctors predicted that the high-energy waves from exotic "cyclotrons" could be used to kill most cancerous tumors. A century-plus later, targeted radiation is a critical weapon in the oncologist's arsenal but not the magic bullet many thought. Interferon In 1980, the world was afrenzy about the big "IF"—an immune-system booster produced by the body in tiny quantities—as word spread that this natural virus fighter could also shrink tumors. Though still in use in some cancer therapies, IF has not fulfilled its early promise. Interleukin-2 Like Interferon, this protein helps activate the body's immune system. And like IF, IL-2 was once thought to be the "cancer breakthrough" we were waiting for. But after years of testing and tweaking, the therapy has led to only scattered remissions in patients. Endostatin After a flurry of early hype, this first of many compounds designed to fight tumor angiogenesis failed dramatically in human tests. The jury is still out on its next- generation kin. Gleevec The little yellow pill from Novartis has wondrous effect in a few rare cancers involving simple mutations, although the disease can grow resistant to this "targeted" biological drug. Funding Aplenty The National Cancer Institute isn't the half of it. Major bucks for cancer R&D come from many sources—some you'd never expect (like the Pentagon). The cancer effort is utterly fragmented—so much so that it's nearly impossible to track down where the money to pay for all this research is coming from. But let's try anyway. Annual cancer funding: $14.4 billion $4.7 Billion is the official war chest in the cancer fight. National Cancer Institute 2004 Budget: $4.7 billion Total other federal funding: $1.9 billion Major charities: $1.0 billion Cancer centers: $0.8 billion $9.7 billion is the additional amount that's chipped in each year from four more federal agencies, five leading charities, nine major cancer centers, and the big drug companies. Pharmaceutical company R&D: $6.0 billion Sources: Totals derive from data for the most recent year available. Other federal funding includes cancer spending by NIH (except NCI) and the VA (excluding treatment), CDC, and Pentagon. Data on charities and cancer centers are from federal tax forms; state figures are not included. Pharma total is from Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development and Fortune estimates.Public Enemy No. 1 Doctors have dramatically reduced deaths from heart disease. But cancer is as lethal as ever and may soon overtake it as the biggest killer of Americans. It is already the biggest killer of those under 75. Public Enemy No. 1 (FORTUNE Chart/ Source: CDC) Cancer's Big Four Killers In 1971, when the war on cancer began, 50% of people diagnosed with the disease went on to live at least five years. Today, 33 years and some $200 billion later, the five-year survival rate is 63%, a modest 13-point gain. But a look behind the numbers for the four biggest killers—lung, colon and rectal, breast, and prostate cancer—reveals that progress isn't being made where you might think it is. With the help of early detection and treatment, more patients are living longer. Once a cancer has spread, however, chances of survival are scarcely better now than they were three decades ago. (FORTUNE Charts/Source: Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (Seer))

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