Immunotherapy, which refers to the use of therapeutics that harness the power of a patient’s own immune system to treat that patient’s cancer, is one of the areas of cancer treatment that continue to make extraordinarily rapid progress. In 2019, there were new approvals for using this exciting approach to treatment for four additional types of cancer, including the first approval for the use of immunotherapy in the treatment of breast cancer. This groundbreaking advance in the treatment of breast cancer was specifically for patients who are diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of the disease called triple-negative breast cancer, such as Eva Joseph (right).
Remarkable advances in our understanding of the biology of cancer, including the identification of numerous genetic mutations that fuel tumor growth in certain patients, are continuing to drive the development of new therapeutics that target specific molecules involved in cancer. All 11 of the new therapeutics approved by the FDA in 2019 target specific molecules involved in cancer, and they are referred to as molecularly targeted therapeutics. These therapeutics are part of the precision medicine revolution which is ensuring that more and more people live longer, higher-quality lives after a cancer diagnosis, including Gary Price.
With the number of cancer cases diagnosed in the United States rising every year, it is vital that the AACR increase public understanding of cancer and the importance of cancer research for saving lives. The annual AACR Cancer Progress Report is a cornerstone of these educational efforts and the AACR’s efforts to advocate for increased annual federal funding for government entities that drive progress against cancer and improve public health, in particular, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Cancer Institute (NCI), FDA, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The AACR Cancer Progress Report 2019 achieves these goals by providing a comprehensive overview of how federally funded medical research was the backbone of progress against cancer over a 12-month period. The report also highlights that unwavering, bipartisan support from Congress, in the form of robust, sustained, and predictable annual increases in funding for the NIH, NCI, FDA, and CDC, is vital if we are to save more lives from cancer.
As AACR President (2019–2020) Elaine R. Mardis, PhD, FAACR, noted in the AACR Cancer Progress Report 2019, “If we are to encourage the cross-disciplinary team science approach to cancer research that is key for igniting technological innovation and advances against all pediatric and adult cancers, we need robust annual increases in federal funding for research. These resources are vital if we are to pave the way for the next major breakthroughs that will transform patient care.”
A featured survivor in the AACR Cancer Progress Report 2019, Eva Joseph was diagnosed with stage 4 triple-negative breast cancer in July 2014. At her oncologist's recommendation, she enrolled in a clinical trial testing a combination of an immunotherapy (atezolizumab) and a chemotherapy (nab-paclitaxel).
"After several rounds of treatment, I began to feel stronger and scans showed that the tumors in my lungs and sternum were shrinking.... I wish I could say that the cancer is all gone, but I can’t; however, the tumors are very small and my treatment is keeping them at bay.
I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to receive atezolizumab. I don’t think I would be here today and feeling this good without it.
I want people to know that this new immunotherapy is providing hope for people like me, people who thought they had no chance to live, and that it only came about because of cancer research and the hard work and money that supported it."
— Elaine R. Mardis, PhD, FAACR
AACR President (2019–2020)
AACR Cancer Progress Report 2019