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Too much of a therapeutic thing?
February 2014
by Jeffrey Bouley  |  Email the author
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As I’ve often told my now-8-year-old daughter since the day she could comprehend what I was saying (even if she did—and still does—ignore a lot of it), there really can be “Too much of a good thing.” An excess of anything can be undesirable and even harmful. Even drinking too much water—that critical component of human life—can lead to water intoxication (aka water poisoning).
 
And certainly, the abundance of toys and games my daughter has collected sometimes threatens my physical safety as I move through her playroom.
 
She has countered my statements many times by saying you can never have too much love or hugs. At this point in her life, I decline to get too deeply into the hassles too much love can invite, but I have mentioned that endless hugs would make it rather hard for me to get my editorial work done, cook when it’s my turn to do so, shower or run errands.
 
There’s been a lot of love, and perhaps hugs all around the labs and boardrooms of pharmas and biotechs, when it comes to oncology these days. With better understanding of the biological processes of various cancers, the genetic drivers of tumors, companion diagnostics to help guide therapy and more, researchers have been going at cancer hard and fast.
 
Certainly, many of you are very interested in cancer therapeutics and diagnostics. Our stories on oncology topics are often our most popular, and we even had to create the Cancer Research News site as a companion to our main website because of the demand for cancer coverage.
 
For that matter, our January issue, my first as chief editor, had nothing but oncology-related stories on the cover, plus many more cancer-oriented stories inside. Inside this issue, cancer stories are the single largest bloc of stories.
 
Is that bad?
 
No. We need to cover what is happening in pharma and biotech, and if oncology is one of the hottest topics, we’ll continue to cover it.
 
The focus on oncology could be bad for companies, though.
 
Early this month, I ran across a Reuters article headlined, “Returns may suffer as drugmakers compete in crowded cancer field.” The gist is pretty straightforward: Drugmakers are pouring more of more of their R&D resources into oncology, but as competition ramps up overall and in niche areas, the increasingly crowded field could lead to diminishing financial returns.
 
Novartis and Roche have 59 and 68 projects in development for cancer, respectively, but only a handful for heart disease, the Reuters article noted as examples. And this at a time when a study by Deloitte and Thomson Reuters notes that the average internal rate of return from pharmaceutical R&D dropped to about 4.8 percent in 2013—it was 7.2 percent in 2012 and 10.5 percent in 2010.
 
Does that mean that a focus on oncology has led to this dismal drop in return on investment? Or would it have happened already and too much eagerness to pursue cancer therapies could worsen the numbers? I don’t know. No one does—at least not yet.
 
Having lost loved ones to cancer, as an overwhelmingly percentage of all of you have as well, I certainly like to see cancer get its behind kicked soundly. But with a couple decades of healthcare writing experience behind me, I also know that our antibiotics are losing effectiveness and we need new ones. I know that Alzheimer’s disease is soon to become a public health crisis if not checked. I know that diabetes continues to rise.
 
Companies can’t all chase the same ball if they want to prosper. I look forward to cancer treatment advances, but I also hope to see a broadening of the pipelines again soon.

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