With cancer now causing one in eight deaths globally and, in Europe, even outpacing serious cardiovascular conditions in terms of prevalence, Switzerland has long positioned itself firmly at the vanguard of countering a disease which the World Health Organization (WHO) predicts will reach an incidence rate of 22 million new cases per annum by 2030. Pertinently though, Switzerland’s trailblazing spirit in facing down this major public health threat never ceases to impress.
First came Novartis’ unprecedented decision to assemble a global business unit (or ‘firm within a firm’) dedicated solely to developing and launching innovative oncology medicines, thus enabling the company to deploy a nimble outfit, with speedy decision-making power especially suited to accelerating the development and commercialization of new generations of cutting edge cancer therapies.
Then, this year heralded the Swiss giant’s unveiling, to great fanfare, of ‘Kymriah,’ the first CAR-T immunocellular therapy, approved in the United States for the treatment of individuals with B-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. “Basically, this constitutes a highly personalized and game-changing therapy in which T-cells are drawn from a patient’s blood and reprogrammed in our cell processing facility. These genetically coded T-cells are subsequently infused back into the patient to potentially hunt down the patient’s cancer cells,” describes Bruno Strigini, former CEO of Novartis Oncology.
For many analysts, though, this represents merely the tip of the iceberg and an entire multitude of Swiss life science firms are furiously busy behind the scenes reconsidering how to go about treating and managing a disease that is no longer necessarily a death sentence. “There is a whole new market segment materializing that pertains to cancer supportive care,” points out Saad Harti, president and founder of Legacy Healthcare. “If you think about it, cancer can increasingly be regarded as a chronic illness because many people are today surviving the acute stage of the disease, but ending up with a substantially reduced quality of life following the affliction,” he reasons.
“Because cancer hits you everywhere, synthetic chemical medicines with onerous side effects often have to be utilized to counter the initial impact, but it makes little sense, however, to be prescribing additional drugs carrying yet more side-effects. Far better, wherever possible, to instead resort to reaction-free botanicals at this particular stage when the patient is already highly medicated,” he argues. Legacy’s lead candidate, CG428, a botanical hair lotion geared towards helping re-establish the natural balance of the hair cycle when disturbed by chemotherapy and hormonal cancer treatments, strives to do exactly that.
Nor is this an isolated example. Other local entities like the medical device firm, Stratpharma, have been arriving at much the same conclusions. “Right now, we are entering the therapeutic area of supportive cancer care, specifically radiation oncology. One of our main products, StrataXRT, is for the prevention and treatment of radiation dermatitis. Basically, we take the management and treatment of radiation dermatitis and do it in a completely different way. So we’re rethinking the manner in which the symptoms are handled,” explains CEO and founder, Darren Kerr.
“Eight of the top ten cancer drugs today are biological. You have TK9 inhibitors or EGFR inhibitors, each of which targets cells and molecules, which are also involved in the functioning of the skin, so patients report unpleasant drug rashes and radiosensitive skin. So while we are offering new radiation machines that have skin-sparing technology, the drugs are running in the opposite direction with greater efficacy, but nasty side effects. Our products work to significantly reduce these drug rashes in a non-chemical way. It’s quite simply a fantastic breakthrough well received by the patients themselves,” he affirms.