Report: More than 1,300 medicines and vaccines in development to help fight cancer

Andrew Powaleny
Andrew Powaleny December 15, 2020

Report: More than 1,300 medicines and vaccines in development to help fight cancer.

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Over the last 30 years, significant progress has been made in the fight against cancer. Researchers have expanded their understanding of how cancer develops and how to target medicines for specific cancer types. Since peaking in 1991, the death rate associated with cancer declined by 29%, which translates to 2.9 million fewer cancer deaths. The most recent data shows that between 2016 and 2017 alone, cancer death rates declined by 2.2%, the largest single-year drop ever recorded. Despite the challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, this momentum continues with biopharmaceutical companies focusing on research and development of innovative cancer therapies.

Still, cancer remains the second leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for 21% of all deaths. It is estimated that new cancer cases reached 1.8 million in 2020, increasing demand for earlier screening and diagnosis, as well as new treatments to address substantial unmet medical needs so patients can continue to live long and healthy lives.

To continue the progress and deliver hope to those battling cancer, biopharmaceutical research companies are working to develop more effective and better tolerated treatments.

A new report today from PhRMA finds that more than 1,300 medicines and vaccines for various cancers are currently in development, either in clinical trials or awaiting review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.


New medicines have played a key role in cancer survival gains, much of which are driven by advances in molecular and genomic research that have revealed the unique complexities of cancer and changed our understanding of the disease. Examples of the science behind potential new cancer treatments include:

  • CAR-T therapy, which is intended to permanently alter a patient’s T-cells to multiply in the body into an army to recognize and fight the root cause of disease.

  • Gene editing, which is a technique involving the alteration of genes to correct mutations, introduce new genetic information or remove specific DNA sequences.

  • RNA interference and antisense RNA, which are relatively new areas of research and build on a pathway that uses DNA sequence to turn the gene off or modify the gene’s expression.

  • Tumor agnostic therapies, which are treatments based on the molecular markers of the tumor, such as a specific genetic mutation, rather than where the tumor originated in the body.

The more than 1,300 medicines and vaccines in development represent an increased recognition among researchers that no two cancers are alike, which has led to further adoption of personalized medicine and the creation of treatments to target cancers specific to a single person. As researchers continue to explore life-saving methods and technologies to fight cancer, it is important we foster an innovation ecosystem that encourages ongoing research and development in this space.

Our new Cancer Chartpack, further highlights the incredible progress made in the fight against the more than 200 diseases we collectively call cancer and the value these medicines provide to patients, the health care system and society. The new resource not only provides an overview of recent cancer treatment advances, the pipeline and patient financial burdens but trends in cancer cost-sharing, spending, provider consolidation and patient access to medicines in the U.S. relative to other developed countries. 

To read the new report on medicines and vaccines in clinical testing for various cancers, click here. And to access the Cancer Chartpack, “Cancer Medicines: Value in Context,” click here.

Learn more about cancer at PhRMA.org/Cancer.

Topics: Medicines in Development, Cancer, New Era of Medicine, R&D Focus