OK, here’s the good news first: percentages of people getting cancer and dying from the disease have both fallen since 1991.1
The bad news?
With an increased population, we’re still going to see 1.66 million new cases of cancer diagnosed in 2013, and 1,600 Americans will die every day this year from its complications. It is still the second-leading cause of deaths in the US behind cardiovascular disease, accounting for one of every four deaths.2
That looming presence in the American healthcare psyche means that biotech, pharmaceutical and device and diagnostics companies are continuing to wage the war on cancer. The possible investment opportunity that presents itself to investors was the thesis behind our new Battling Cancer motif, a portfolio of 25 stocks of companies deriving a relevant portion of their revenue from cancer diagnosis and treatment.
It’s worth noting that the five-year survival rate for cancer is light years from where it once was – on a relative basis, 68% of cancer patients survived during the 2002-2008 period, up from 49% in 1975-1977.
That improvement reflects both progress in diagnosing cancer at earlier stages as well as more effective methods of treatment.
Naturally, treatment methods are continuing to evolve, and it appears that a new era could be underway with the surge in biotech firms driving target therapies and genetic analysis.
For example, a recent New York Post article reported on a study by Columbia economist Frank Lichtenberg, which looked at the relationship between medical innovation and cancer death rates. Lichtenberg found that from 2000-2010 newer treatments that were paired with tests that hone in on specific tumors accounted for 100% of the decline in cancer rates.
The next step, already underway by many biotech firms, is a process called systems biology, which analyzes thousands of genes and individual tumor mutations. This could be the key to not only preventing new cancers from developing, but also to stopping tumors before they learn to outwit the latest generation of treatments.
Let’s hope cancer will never know what hit it.
1American Cancer Society, “Cancer Facts and Figures 2013” http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@epidemiologysurveilance/documents/document/acspc-036845.pdf, (accessed Oct. 2, 2013).
1Robert Goldberg, “Are we winning the war on cancer?” New York Post, July 29, 2013, http://nypost.com/2013/07/29/are-we-winning-the-war-on-cancer/, (accessed Oct. 2, 2013).