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Hispanic Health News

California Companies Target Heart Disease, Cancer With More Than 240 Medicines in Development

At a time when cancer and heart disease are the nation’s and the world’s top killers, biopharmaceutical research companies headquartered in California are developing 243 of the 1,186 medicines in development for those dreaded diseases.

The California companies are developing 188 of 887 drugs for more than 20 types of cancer and 55 of 299 medicines for heart disease and stroke.

The cancer statistics are contained in a new report “Medicines in Development for Cancer” published by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), while the data on heart disease and stroke are from a PhRMA report from early this year.

The cancer report and “Medicines in Development for Heart Disease and Stroke” can be found on the PhRMA website, www.phrma.org.
“California’s companies are on the front line in both the ongoing War on Cancer and the intense fight against heart disease,” said PhRMA spokesman Jeff Trewhitt. “The drugs they are testing could prove to be important to patients all over the world, including both the United States and California where heart disease and cancer are also the two leading causes of death.”

Heart disease, in 2004, killed more than 73,000 Californians, which was about a third of all fatalities in the state that year. In California’s burgeoning Latino population, heart disease, cancer and stroke, plus diabetes, account for 54 percent of all deaths.

Fifty-seven percent of all state residents over 65 have high blood pressure.

Nationwide, the American Heart Association estimates about 80 million American adults have some form of heart disease. A coronary event occurs every 25 seconds.

Cancer statistics for the state and the nation are equally as grim.

According to 2011 projections from the American Cancer Society and the California Department of Public Health, nearly 150,000 state residents will be diagnosed with cancer this year – that’s the equivalent of 16 new cases every hour of every day.

More than 50,000 Californians are expected to die of cancer in 2011, which works out to nearly 150 people a day. Cancer kills more children in the state than any other disease and accounts for one of every four deaths.

Nationally, the American Cancer Society says the expectation for last year was a detection of more than 1.5 million new cancer cases. More than 550,000 cancer victims were expected to die in the United States in 2010.

“Despite some progress in recent years, there’s a clear need for new cancer, heart disease and stroke medicines,” said Trewhitt. “And the good news is that many medicines being developed today – including many being tested by California companies – reflect new technology, including cutting-edge biotechnology techniques.”

New cancer medicines in clinical trials include one designed to induce a powerful immune response to melanoma and a medication that interferes with the metabolism of cancer cells. Another new product being tested in patients uses nanotechnology to improve delivery of medicines to help overcome obstacles found in some existing treatments.

California’s biopharmaceutical research companies are working on treatments for cancer of the bladder, brain, breast, colon, head and neck, kidneys, liver, lungs, ovaries, pancreas, prostate gland, stomach and other forms. The state’s firms, which include some of the nation’s leading biotechnology medicine businesses, are also developing medications for leukemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma, melanoma and solid tumors.

In the heart disease arena, new generation medicines being developed in America include human stem cells that restore cardiac function by forming new heart muscle and a gene therapy that uses a patient’s own cells to treat heart failure.

Besides heart failure, the biopharmaceutical companies in California are targeting high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, acute coronary syndrome, atherosclerosis, heart attack, coronary artery disease and ischemic disorders.

“Company researchers throughout the state and the United States are trying to build upon the progress made with medicines already on the market,” said Trewhitt. “Existing drugs are among the tools responsible for a 1.6 percent per year drop in cancer deaths between 2001 and 2006.”


The number of survivors increased from about three million on December 23, 1971, when President Nixon signed the National Cancer Act to launch the War on Cancer, to 11.7 million in 2007.

Medicines also played a key role in a 28 percent decline of heart disease and stroke deaths between 1997 and 2007. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, if death rates were the same as those of 30 years ago, 815,000 more Americans would die of heart disease annually and 250,000 more would die of stroke.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) represents the country’s leading pharmaceutical research and biotechnology companies, which are devoted to inventing medicines that allow patients to live longer, healthier, and more productive lives.

PhRMA companies are leading the way in the search for new cures. PhRMA members alone invested an estimated $49.4 billion in 2010 in discovering and developing new medicines. Industry-wide research and investment reached a record $67.4 billion in 2010.