Immunotherapy boom

Pharma Firms Eye Big Profits in New Cancer Drugs

Germany-based Merck is helping to lead the charge of cancer immunotherapy with its drug Erbitux, or cetuximab.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Immunotherapy drugs have proven effective against certain types of cancers, leaving pharma firms with high hopes that they may go mainstream.

  • Facts


    • Immunotherapy drugs trigger the immune system to attack tumors, rather than targeting all cells like chemotherapies.
    • Figures suggest immunotherapy sales will reach $14 billion ($12.3 billion) by the end of the decade and $34 billion by 2024.
    • Bristol-Myers Squibb, Merck and Co., Merck Group, Roche, AstraZeneca and Pfizer have immunotherapies in the pipeline.
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Five years ago U.S. drug maker Bristol-Myers Squibb won approval from the Food and Drug Administration for Yervoy, its new prescription medicine used to treat certain types of melanoma, or skin cancer.

It was a turning point in the fight against cancer. Yervoy was the first successful example of cancer immunotherapy, a type of drug that harnesses the body’s immune defenses to fight tumors.

Medical experts say the field of drugs promises the greatest progress in cancer therapy in decades — and analysts expect it to boost the pharmaceutical industry’s already flourishing oncology business.

Since Yervoy was approved, three more cancer drugs based on immunotherapy have hit the market. With combined sales of about $2.6 billion (€2.3 billion), they still play only a minor role in the $90 billion cancer drug market, but their potential is considered enormous.

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