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Gleevec wasn't the first genetic targeted therapy for cancer -- the decades of research sparked by that discovery actually paid off for some other cancers first.
Boyd predicts there will be more than 100 targeted therapies available within several more years, and the real quest is for targets that prove as crucial to holding cancer in check as Gleevec's did.,
Generating particular excitement now are possible new drugs for hard-to-treat breast cancer, compounds called PARP inhibitors that block enzymes needed for cell growth. Also on the radar are earlier-stage experiments with drugs for melanoma and lung cancer that target different genetic pathways involved in spurring cancer growth.
The biggest threat: Funding for cancer research isn't keeping up with the discovery of possible new targets, said the cancer society's Brawley. The NCI's budget has held at around $5 billion for several years, but federal scientists are bracing for possible cuts in 2012.
And because these targeted therapies work differently -- shrinking a tumor or slowing its growth -- than the tumor-destroying approaches of chemotherapy and radiation, it's harder to prove a benefit.
But Allison Frey, whose aggressive form of thyroid cancer spread to her liver in inoperable patches, says that approach has made her cancer an illness she can manage much like a diabetic manages insulin. For nearly five years, the Lanoka Harbor, N.J., woman has swallowed an experimental pill called Axitinib that shrank those patches and kept them from growing back, working through a pathway that targets a tumor's blood supply.
"Honestly, to me it's just like any other chronic illness," said Frey, who's part of a study at Fox Chase. "I show up for work every day and live life ... with minimal issues."
Lauran Neergaard covers health and medical issues for The Associated Press in Washington.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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