5:28 PM
Mar 30, 2017
 |  BC Innovations  |  Targets & Mechanisms

Cells on the rise

AACR by the numbers: abstracts by targets, indications, modalities, cell types

Editor's Note: This article was updated on Apr 07, 2017 at 12:24 PM PDT

This year’s meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) will keep the spotlight on immuno-oncology, where preclinical science is continuing to expand the use of different types of innate and adaptive immune cells in a range of different cancers. Other highlights include a rising profile of ovarian cancer and at least 21 new targets covering DNA damage repair or pathways of cancer metabolism.

BioCentury’s second annual analysis of the almost 6,000 AACR abstracts recapitulates several of the themes from last year, showing a steady growth in cancer immunotherapy against a backdrop of decades-old targets that still occupy, at least numerically, a dominant position.

The meeting takes place on April 1-5 in Washington, D.C., and represents one of the biggest collections of preclinical cancer research. Its abstracts, released one month ago, provide a snapshot of the state of cancer research and trends in the field.

Across indications and targets, the bulk of the activity is in areas already well represented in clinical development. Three of the top cancers studied - breast, lung and prostate - each have dozens of compounds in clinical development, according to BioCentury’s BCIQ database. (see “Top Indications at AACR 2017”).

Figure: Top indications at AACR 2017

Breast cancer, featuring in about 1,200 abstracts for the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) annual meeting next week, continues to be the biggest focus in preclinical cancer research, trailed distantly by lung, colorectal and prostate cancer. Abstracts mentioning brain or ovarian cancer increased significantly over 2016, while only leukemia and skin cancer saw fewer mentions than last year. Although year-on-year the proportion of most subtypes remained consistent within each cancer type, pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) grew to account for 43% of all pancreatic cancer mentions. Lymphoma includes both Hodgkin’s disease and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL), with T cell lymphoma, B cell lymphoma, follicular lymphoma and mantle cell lymphoma (MCL) categorized as NHL subtypes and cutaneous T cell lymphoma (CTCL) categorized as a subtype of T cell lymphoma. The chart depicts 13 cancer types that are mentioned in 100 abstracts or more, broken down by cancer subtype. “Unspecified subtype” includes the number of abstracts that did not fall into the selected categories. Source: AACR abstracts (as of March 2, 2017)

However, the spread largely reflects the distribution of NIH funding, which is weighted to the same top cancer indications.

In the last three years, breast cancer funding far outstripped other cancers, with an annual average of $685 million - about twice the funding of any other type. Most of the other top indications received about $300 million per year (see “NIH Funding for Cancer”).

Table: NIH funding for cancer

The number of preclinical cancer abstracts presented at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR)’s annual meeting mostly mirrors the level of NIH funding for each cancer type. Between 2014 and 2016, breast cancer received the largest allocation from the NIH budget of all cancer types. Lung cancer, which has a lower prevalence but much greater mortality, received less than half as much, but was the second highest funded type. NIH funding for leukemia includes Hodgkin’s disease, but the prevalence and mortality figures do not incorporate the Hodgkin’s disease figures. In addition to the figures shown, NIH also allocated almost $5.5 billion to unspecified cancers annually. Source: NIH

Cancer typeAverage annual NIH funding (2014-2016)U.S. Mortality (2014)2014 U.S. Prevalence (standard error)
Breast cancer$685 million50,4271.4% (0.08%)
Lung cancer$322 million164,8820.3% (0.03%)
Brain cancer$299 million16,3580.1% (0.02%)
Lymphoma$282 million26,4500.3% (0.04%)
Prostate cancer$280 million39,6242.0% (0.14%)
Pancreatic cancer$159 million42,215Unavailable
Leukemia (childhood)$140 millionUnavailableUnavailable
Ovarian cancer$124 million15,2360.4% (0.07%)
Liver cancer$83 million26,7940.1% (0.02%)

One standout is ovarian cancer, which received an average of $123 million per year from NIH, the least of the top cancers. Ovarian cancer jumped from eighth position in the 2016 AACR abstracts to sixth position this year, and seven of the new targets - identified in four abstracts - were in cell lines and animal models of ovarian cancer (see “Novel Cancer Targets at AACR 2017”).

Table: Novel Cancer Targets at AACR 2017

Select new targets in cancer presented at the 2017 American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) annual...

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