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Cancer remains one of the leading causes of mortality worldwide, the second to cardiovascular diseases only. Although the problem was recognized long time ago, and billions of dollars were invested into cancer research and drug development by both governments and pharmaceutical companies worldwide, there is a clear lack of significant progress in treatment of this disease. What we are doing wrong? Why cancer still remains dangerous and often untreatable?
No simple answers to these questions exist. There are many factors contributing to the failure of modern medicine to deliver the cure for this common disease.
Cancer is a very complex problem
Post-genomic era brought a remarkable advance in our understanding of cancer on molecular and cellular level. The picture that emerged is very complex.
This means that universal treatment suitable for everyone does not exist. The term “cancer” refers to the huge number of conditions of very different nature that require different drugs to achieve curative effect. All these drugs has to be discovered and development.
Drug discovery and development is very expensive
And here is where the second part of the problem comes. Drug discovery and development is a long and tedious process. It is also very expensive: each successful drug that reaches the patients costs well above US$1 billionby the time it is approved by FDA or any other regulatory body.
The question of profits is very important in modern pharmaceutical business.Overwhelming majority of drugs is developed by large multinational corporations. They do deliver good medicines, but like any other companies working in the market economy they have to bring profits to the people who invested into them. Keeping shareholders happy ensures that shareholders invest money needed for work. The structure of business puts incentives on making the drugs that are more likely to bring profits in a relatively short period of time. It is also better to go for safer option and develop a drug with well confirmed proof-of-principle rather than work (and spend money) on the innovative project with unpredictable outcome.
Unfortunately, academic research science is chronically underfunded and often relies on charitable donations. Research funding is an easy target for government spending cuts, as has been clearly seen during the last economic crisis.