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A brief introduction
Before starting to the discussion about this topic I will present a little bit better who am I and I never got any money from any pharmaceutical company. I worked between 2007 and 2017 in two different government public companies in Brazil (which included my master and doctorate in genomics and transcriptomics using bioinformatics in different topics related to cancer). These companies are the National Cancer Institute (INCA) and the Oswaldo Cruz Institute (FIOCRUZ) . Both are public funded and all my salaries there were funded by public grants without any private incentive. I would say that the only private incentive that I got was a international conference paid by Qiagen (a company that produces lab equipment and kits). My post-doc was also in a non-profit institute (the Atlantic Cancer Research Institute in Canada) which had public/private investments (which at least what I knew no pharmaceutical companies funded) , but I never worked in any investigation with any drugs, our research was based on new diagnosis and prognosis methods using plasma from the patients. I worked there until January this year, which means 15 years of reading and doing research on cancer. Now I am working with another topic in a government public institution, antimicrobial resistance genomics.
All that I am going to mention here is based on other works and even I will try to cite as more good reliable HIVE articles that I have found and they are well written.
Cancer treatment vs other diseases treatment
There are different aspects that people think about cancer treatment and question it around. The first question that usually think about the topic is why we can cure all diseases but only cancer no?
This question has lots of flaws, so let's start point by point:
1. Not all diseases have a cure including those caused by infections diseases
The problem is that in the biggest amount of time, one individual will have problems with regular flu and common bacterial infections problems in their whole life. The flu caused by influenza doesn't have,a cure, but still the person will get better in a couple of days. And for bacteria infections, there is usually a Tx that will cure in a big percentage of times, excluding these ultra-resistant bacteria infections which aren't common. However, there isn't a cure for many diseases caused specifically by viruses and protozoa. Take this brain eater amoeba as an extreme example here is the video from Kurzgesagt project about it:
2. Cancer isn't a disease! In reality is a group of diseases
The good post from @momins already mentioned about this in here . Every tumor is different from the other. Different from specific genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis, which is caused by one specific mutation. Different types of cancer with different mutation and expression profiles can be found. Even if two people with an initial lung tumor, probably they won't have the same genetic profile if we go look deeply. That's why we see people responding well to a specific treatment and others don't. That's why in the field nowadays we talk a lot about personalized medicine. The goal of personalized medicine is to identify the main mutations and expression profiles in each individual tumor to identify which treatments will fail and which can have better success.
3. Some tumors can be cured!
Despite of this term of "cure" is not acceptable since you always have the possibility of recurrence. There are some tumors which the patient has a high percentage of not seeing the disease anymore, with more than 90% of chance that for at least in 5 years you won't hear about it by the doctor, and probably you will die with something else, such as a heart attack. Mostly this happens to tumors that grow in a slow way, so it is easier that a treatment or surgery in the initial stages will help with it. Some examples are Breast Cancer in stage 0 or 1, Melanoma, Thyroid Cancer and prostate cancer. You can find some explanation about this in here.
So, are pharmaceutical companies little angels?
The short answer is that of course not. They are companies like any other companies that are finding new ways to get more profit. So a universal cancer cure (which I don't believe in that) would give them tons of profits, imagine also the profit of all insurance plans?
In addition, because of that we know that pharmaceutical companies don't invest much and diseases that they won't have as many profit as others. It is the same that it is totally understandable if a REIT companies won't build luxury houses in a poor neighbor. It is sad but they are focused in profit. That's what happen a lot with lot's neglected tropical diseases, such as Malaria, Leishmaniosis and other diseases that happens in poor countries and mostly don't have much money to spend in high-end treatments. And that also happens with cancer! There are some tumors with more incidences in poor countries which don't have much incidence in North America and Europe. So you won't see much treatment diversity for these type of tumors. But for lung cancer which is in the top 5 of rich countries, you will see the most of the research in this area. Immunotherapy is very expensive usually individuals need the help of governments to receive it. There is a good article about immunotherapy if you guys are curious about made by @cyprianj in here.
There are thousands of scientists working with cancer research around the world, most of them are not funded by pharmaceutical companies, but even those they are, they are trying to find the best innovations in the treatment and diagnosis of cancer and other diseases. So I hope that the points mentioned are clear . See you next time!
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