“the new war on cancer”

I remember that one of the (few) things that caught my attention in the last State of the Union address was talk of a new research plan to cure cancer. This article in The Week talks about what that is.

recently, researchers have had very encouraging results with a new approach called immunotherapy. Some patients in advanced stages of the disease, who previously would have been deemed terminal, have undergone rapid and complete recoveries. Hoping to build on that progress, President Obama in January announced a $1 billion “moonshot” to cure cancer, putting Vice President Joe Biden — whose son Beau died of brain cancer last year — in charge of “mission control.” …

Another promising new frontier is genetic analysis, which splits each type of cancer into dozens of subtypes, so that specific chemotherapy drugs can be tailored to each cancer. Experts also now hope they can use the breakthrough gene-editing technique called CRISPR to correct mutations in cancer cells, or perhaps “edit” out mutation-prone genes that people inherit…

In August 2015, former President Jimmy Carter announced he had been diagnosed with advanced melanoma, a type of skin cancer that had spread to his liver and brain. “I’m perfectly at ease with whatever comes,” said Carter, then 90. Four months later, Carter announced he was cancer-free. Along with radiation, Carter had been put on pembrolizumab (brand name Keytruda), a checkpoint inhibitor that stops cancer cells from blocking the immune system’s response. Soon after, Carter’s scans showed no evidence of the original cancer lesions on his brain, or any new lesions. Given that cancer can often reappear years down the line, oncologists prefer to talk in terms of “years of remission” rather than “cure” — but like Carter, some cancer patients on Keytruda have seen their disease disappear completely. Not surprisingly, says melanoma specialist Dr. Patrick Ott, Carter’s miraculous recovery has prompted patients across the country to demand, “I want what Jimmy Carter had.” Doctors caution that in clinical trials, Keytruda shrank the tumors in only 24 percent of patients, and that it only works on certain types of cancer.

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