While primary brain tumours are relatively rare, the chances of survival are still very low, according to a new report by consultancy firm Datamonitor, but significant progress is being made with research into the disease.

The report notes that the most aggressive and most common form of brain cancer is glioblastoma multiforme and Datamonitor predicts that there will be around 26,000 new cases of GBM diagnosed in the seven major markets (USA, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK) this year. Standard treatment currently involves surgical removal of the tumour followed by radiotherapy and chemotherapy, most commonly Schering-Plough’s Temodar(temozolomide). However, survival is low for most GBM patients treated in this way and Datamonitor says that the next step forward may involve targeted therapies.

In comparison to the four major types of cancer - breast, prostate, lung and colorectal – brain tumours are less prevalent and so many drugmakers may shy away from targeting a disease which may not be considered as commercially viable. However, there are several incentives for firms to focus on brain cancer, according to Datamonitor oncology analyst Tom Gray, who said that “while the uptake of some new cancer drugs has been rather limited in more cost-conservative healthcare markets like the UK, these reimbursement restrictions may not extend to brain cancer due to the low number of patients with the disease”. Indeed, the rarity of the disease “also entitles drug developers to several regulatory benefits, such as tax breaks”, he added.

On a positive note, there are several innovative drugs currently in development that are targeted therapies which do not indiscriminately destroy cells like traditional chemotherapy. These include Genentech and Roche’s Avastin (bevacizumab) and AstraZeneca’s Recentin (cediranib) which are currently in Phase II trials and “as well as inhibiting tumour growth in this way, these drugs have shown signs of reducing swelling in the brain - potentially alleviating a common and painful condition in brain cancer patients”, said Dr Gray.

However, it is likely to be at least two years before these drugs are available to brain cancer patients and it appears unlikely that Temodar will be superseded in the near future as the number one therapy. Physicians interviewed by Datamonitor envisage targeted therapies being used alongside Temodar, rather than directly replacing it.

Dr Gray concludes by saying that other research “could lead to personalised drug therapy for individual brain cancer patients, tailor-made according to the particular characteristics of that patient’s disease”.