US pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies have a record 861 new cancer medicines and vaccines currently in human clinical trials or awaiting approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), according to a new industry report.

They include: - 122 new treatments for lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer death in the US; - 106 for breast cancer, which is forecast to strike more than 180,000 American women every year; - 103 for prostate cancer, which is estimated to kill over 28,000 men in the US annually; and – 70 for colorectal cancer, the third most common cancer in both men and women in the nation.

In addition, drugs are now in development to target brain and kidney cancers, leukemia, and cancers of the skin, ovaries and pancreas, says the report, which is published by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). Drugmakers are also working on medicines aimed at improving the quality of life for cancer patients, it adds, pointing out that as many as 50% of cancer patients may currently be undertreated for the pain associated with their condition.

The many new “cutting-edge” approaches to fighting cancer which US drugmakers are currently working on include: - a medicine which delivers a synthetic version of a substance derived from scorpions directly to brain tumour cells; - a drug that inhibits production of a protein that may interfere with the effectiveness of chemotherapy; - a product designed to induce a powerful immune response to melanoma; - a potential first-line and first-in-class therapy designed to target specific cancer cells and kill then, and then activate the patient’s general immune system to destroy any remaining cancer cells; and - a product using nanotechnology that enhances the delivery of medicine to the patient, overcoming obstacles in existing treatment.

These new advances are “our best hope for stemming the toll of cancer-related deaths,” said PhRMA chief executive Billy Tauzin, himself a survivor of abdominal cancer. Cancer remains the USA’s second leading cause of death by disease, second only to heart disease, and in 2008 it is estimated that around 565,650 Americans died of cancer, or more than 1,500 a day, he adds.

AstraZeneca chief elected PhRMA board chairman

Meantime, PhRMA has announced that AstraZeneca chief executive David Brennan has been elected as board chairman of the trade association, succeeding Richard Clark, chief executive and president at Merck & Co. Jeffrey Kindler, chairman and chief executive at Pfizer, is named chairman-elect of the PhRMA board of directors, and David Norton, company group chairman, worldwide commercial and operations for the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceuticals Group, is named as board treasurer.

The board appointments were announced at PhRMA’s annual meeting in Washington DC.