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The 20-year journey yielding a new weapon against cancer

Andrew Powaleny   |     January 10, 2017   |   SHARE THIS

Developing new medicines is a long, complex process. On average, it takes at least 10-12 years for a new medicine to complete the journey from initial discovery to becoming part of a patient’s treatment regimen. In some cases, however, it can take even longer.

Nearly 30 years ago, the scientific community identified BCL-2 proteins and their role in blocking the ability of cells in the body to undergo a process called programmed cell death or apoptosis, through which the body gets rid of damaged cells. In a person with cancer, this important process does not function right; rather than helping the body kill unhealthy tumor cells, BCL-2 proteins block the ability of tumors to die, allowing the cancer to spread.

Twenty years ago, researchers at AbbVie (then known as Abbott) set out to determine if they could develop a medicine to fight cancer by stopping BCL-2 proteins from preventing programmed cell death and allowing tumor cells to die. In a new video, AbbVie researchers who participated in this decades-long journey share their experiences, the challenges they faced and why the ability to harness BCL-2 to fight cancer is so important. This tireless commitment has been exemplified time and again by our member companies – and no exception are researchers at AbbVie, who worked for more than 20 years to develop an innovative, new medicine – called a BCL-2 inhibitor – to improve outcomes for people fighting blood cancers like chronic lymphocytic leukemia or CLL.

“This is a really interesting way to think about targeting cancer, by enhancing the ability of cells to die,” said Saul Rosenberg, Ph.D., senior director of oncology research at AbbVie, who worked on the research and development of the company’s BCL-2 inhibitor for more than two decades.

“The ability to block BCL-2’s action was very, very challenging, but ultimately, we found one molecule that could be successful,” said Michael Severino, AbbVie’s chief scientific officer.

The AbbVie team, who initially worked with colleagues at Genentech and Roche to bring the BCL-2 inhibitor to patients, is hopeful they can continue build on the successes achieved in CLL by using BCL-2 inhibitors in other cancer types.

“We’re just scraping the surface of what this drug may end up being able to do,” said Rosenberg. “I think most of us aren’t stepping back and saying ‘Oh, this great.’ We’re focused on what’s next.”

SaulRosenberg-min.jpg mikeseverino-min.jpg garygordon-min.jpg
Saul Rosenberg, Ph.D. 
Sr. Director of Oncology Research 
AbbVie
Michael Severino 
Chief Scientific Officer 
AbbVie
Gary Gordon, M.D., Ph.D. 
V.P., Oncology Development 
AbbVie
SaulRosenberg-min.jpgSaul Rosenberg, Ph.D. 
Sr. Director of Oncology Research 
AbbVie


mikeseverino-min.jpgMichael Severino 
Chief Scientific Officer 
AbbVie


garygordon-min.jpgGary Gordon, M.D., Ph.D. 
V.P., Oncology Development 
AbbVie

Learn more about cancer medicines in development here.

Andrew Powaleny

Andrew Powaleny Andrew Powaleny is Director of Public Affairs at PhRMA. Before joining PhRMA in 2015, he worked at the House Energy and Commerce Committee and later as a communications consultant. Andrew came to Washington, D.C. via Connecticut and proudly sings with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, runs with the DC Front Runners and serves on the Alumni Council for The Fund for American Studies. He is also a member of the National Lesbian Gay Journalists Association.

Topics: cancer, Leukemia, New Era of Medicine

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