Traditional drugs can be biological brutes--blundering in to change one process but touching off a series of unwanted side effects in others. So medicines heading to market this year reflect a continuing trend toward more personalized and targeted therapies with fewer complications.
Already approved to help breast-cancer patients decide whether they need chemotherapy, a new version of the 21-gene test will scan biopsies of the earliest malignancies, ductal carcinoma in situ, and determine whether they are likely to spread--and therefore require radiation follow-up--or are less aggressive, in which case surgery alone might suffice.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a painfully debilitating condition in which the immune system turns against the body, gnawing away at proteins that lubricate joints to keep them working smoothly. Pfizer's new therapy is the first to home in on the destructive culprit, avoiding the breakdown of joints.
Cell-Based Flu Vaccine
We still grow flu viruses for influenza vaccines inside chicken eggs--a slow process that makes us vulnerable to a pandemic if a new strain emerges. Novartis has developed the first cell-based vaccine against the worrisome H5N1, available in Europe, where the virus is grown in cell-culture dishes instead. The U.S. is next: the company is building its first facility to manufacture these vaccines in North Carolina.
Two times may be the charm for Vivus' antiobesity drug, which had been turned down by the Food and Drug Administration. Qnexa is a two-drug treatment that pairs an approved appetite suppressant, phentermine, with topiramate, an antiseizure medication. The duo helps patients lose about 14% of their body weight over a year but has been linked to birth defects and heart problems, which may be why Vivus applied for approval excluding women in their childbearing years.
Genentech and Roche's new breast-cancer drug is designed to interfere with the HER2 receptor that contributes to 25% of breast cancers. The wishbone-shaped agent prevents HER2 from binding to the compounds it needs to hijack a healthy cell and drive it toward malignancy. Studies showed that combining pertuzumab with the existing HER2 drug Herceptin helped patients live about six months longer--a big advance--than those receiving Herceptin alone.