Commercialization of the “cancer stem cell” concept

by Alexey Bersenev on April 21, 2008 · 2 comments

in business

According to the modern concept of Cancer Stem Cells (CSCs), a tiny cell population that causes tumor initiation, propagation, metastasis and relapses, the CSC is considered an ideal target for design of new anti-cancer drugs.

I was really thrilled by a message from the last article in April issue of Nature Biotechnology, which reviewed the current cancer stem cell drug market.

This article was written because of the news that pharmaceutical giant company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) dealing (= 1.4$ billions) with OncoMed Pharmaceuticals about licensing a few antibodies, targeting CSC. Importantly, GSK’s interest to OncoMed comes from desperation about situation in the field of screening of new anti-cancer drugs.

Some researchers now believe the only way to cure cancer is by killing the stem cells that give rise to it.

Ok, developing the concept of CSC gives a good stimulus for new start up companies and for “big pharma” for acquire them. It’s seems to be good, but reality is not that clear.

The number of companies devoted to this research has grown from 17 in April 2007 to nearly 40 today. The problem is that not everyone even believes that targeting cancer stem cells will yield therapeutic benefits.

and even more:

Meanwhile, as commercial entities grow up around it, skeptics question the validity of targeting cancer stem cells.

But others remain cautious as, in some instances, claims pointing to the existence of cancer stem cells have turned out to be wrong upon closer inspection. “More studies are needed to confirm that cancer stem cells were in fact targeted by Tyverb,” Bates notes. “We need further evidence to show that cancer stem cells in humans have been fully characterized. And we need ways to demonstrate that a particular subpopulation of cells has been reduced by treatment,” he notes.

So, it seems like companies don’t really know or are not really sure what they are targeting, but they already claim – cancer stem cells! And they “sell it” to us. But who are buyers? Buyers are desperate cancer patients who really DO NOT CARE what the heck researchers and companies are targeting, as long as it works and makes them survive.

I’ll finish with the table, which shows the most prominent candidates for cancer stem cell market:

Charlie Schmidt. Drug makers chase cancer stem cells. Nat Biotechnol 2008;26:366; doi:10.1038/nbt0408-366c

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jae-Won Shin April 22, 2008 at 12:15 pm

Interesting article. It will be important to define if cancer stem cell is a useful target for patients with terminal illness. I envision that cancer stem cell is a target for the key but second line of cancer treatment: remove aggressive tumor first, then remove cancer stem cells to prevent relapse.


Alex April 22, 2008 at 9:46 pm

Yes, anti-CSC drugs is the second line of therapy.
First is surgical cytoreduction if it’s solid tumor (before metastatic stage) or after BMT/chemotherapy if it’s leukemia. In any case, especially if it’s metastatic process, anti-CSC therapy is integrated in the “common protocol”.

the best quote from the article:

The main thing is to ensure that we eliminate the malignant cancer stem cells only without affecting the normal stem cells.
Whether we’ll be able to do this is the billion dollar question that everyone wants to answer.

by Michael Clarke


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