89.3 F
San Fernando
Wednesday, Mar 22, 2023

Finding the Holy Grail

Since the middle of the last century, the primary methods for treating cancers have been surgical removal of tumors along with hefty doses of radiation and chemotherapy.

“I call it the slash (surgery), burn (radiation) and poison (chemotherapy) approach to treating cancer – incredibly blunt instruments that have major side effects on patients,” said Stephanie Hsieh, chief executive of Biocom L.A., a bioscience industry advocacy organization. She previously ran a cancer immunotherapy company.

But in the last couple of decades, a new approach has come to the forefront in cancer treatment: immunotherapy, which uses cellular therapies to boost the body’s immune response to kill cancer cells. These immunotherapies have become increasingly targeted in nature, directing their treatments and drug payloads directly to the tumor site, which in turn reduces the risk for immune responses that grow out of control and cause broader harm to patients.

And Los Angeles County has been at the center of this increasingly hot area of cancer research.

That’s because much of the initial underlying research for this targeted immunotherapy approach occurred here in Los Angeles County at institutions such as Duarte-based City of Hope and Westwood-based UCLA Health. Those institutions spun off companies that then began to commercialize these targeted immunotherapies – most notably Kite in Santa Monica that in 2017 was acquired by Foster City-based Gilead Sciences Inc. for nearly $12 billion.

Other research institutions – including Beverly Grove-based Cedars-Sinai Health System and Keck Medicine of USC – have also formed the solid bedrock of research that has turned Los Angeles County into one of the nation’s top two or three centers of cancer immunotherapy research and development.

And in the Conejo Valley, pharma giant Amgen Inc. has also plunged ahead with immune-oncology drug research and development.

The field is still in its infancy, with only a small fraction of cancer patients currently being treated with immunotherapies. But that number is growing rapidly by the year as increasingly targeted immunotherapy drugs clear clinical trials and go on the market.

The ultimate aim, the “holy grail” of this approach to treating cancer, remains killing the cancer cells while causing little or no harm to the patient.

“Our therapies are built to kill disease, not the immune system,” said Patrick Soon-Shiong, the billionaire who founded one of the companies in this field, Culver City-based ImmunityBio Inc.

In this special section, the Business Journal takes a snapshot of several of the local companies and research institutions working in this rapidly evolving field of immunotherapies for cancer.

Hannah Madans Welk
Hannah Madans Welk
Hannah Madans Welk is a managing editor at the Los Angeles Business Journal and the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. She previously covered real estate for the Los Angeles Business Journal. She has done work with publications including The Orange County Register, The Real Deal and doityourself.com.

Featured Articles

Related Articles