Samuel Lagercrantz: We are currently seeing medical breakthroughs in these areas

Samuel Lagercrantz, Editor in Chief of Life Science Sweden, lists three medical fields in which we are currently seeing major breakthroughs and two fields in which we can see some long-awaited positive developments.

Some diseases and therapeutic areas are particularly difficult to find good treatments for, and trial after trial has failed. However, we are now seeing a positive shift in several areas, and here are some examples:

Alzheimer’s. Pharmaceutical companies have poured billions into trying to find drugs that can slow the progression of the dreaded dementia, but until recently, without much success. 

Who could possibly have missed the success of the Swedish biotech company Bioarctic with its drug lecanemab, which was approved for Alzheimer’s disease in the US last summer? It is a major breakthrough that we now have medication that affects the cause of the disease, rather than as before, only alleviating the symptoms. It could be the beginning of a new successful approach to treating the most common form of dementia.

Cancer. The immunotherapy breakthrough began in 2011 when the first checkpoint inhibitor for cancer was approved. Since then, several other immunotherapies have been introduced, making treatments more accurate. Yet, we have only just scratched the surface. We will get increasingly effective immunotherapies, with fewer side effects, for more types of cancer. As a result, more patients will survive and fewer will need surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

The idea that the body’s immune cells can fight tumour cells is over a hundred years old. As I reported earlier in Life Science Sweden, it was long considered a frivolous theory. Today, in addition to developing more and better checkpoint inhibitors, several other types of cancer therapies involving the immune system are under development.

Obesity: In the field of obesity, new medicines have come and gone. Reductil and Acomplia were two of those that had to be withdrawn due to side effects. The Novo Nordisk drug Wegovy has changed all of that, and more drugs with a similar mechanism of action are on their way.

Some people sneer at obesity treatments and talk about welfare diseases. However, this is a cynical approach, in my opinion, as obesity causes so many secondary diseases. Moreover, there is a very clear correlation showing that people with obese parents are many times more likely to suffer from obesity than those with slim parents, which makes the victimisation of obese people all the more uncomfortable.

GLP-1 analogues, the class of medicines to which Wegovy belongs, have only been used to treat obesity for a short time and, as with other new medicines, it is important to keep an eye out for serious side effects as more and more people use the drugs for a long time. The European Medicines Agency is currently investigating whether the drugs might pose a risk of psychiatric side effects.

Although breakthroughs have yet to be made in many fields, there are still glimmers of hope. Long-term pain is one such field. Developing diagnostic methods and good treatments for chronic pain is very difficult. The question is whether we will ever have biochemical markers that can indicate long-term pain.

Nevertheless, there is no denying that millions of people around the world suffer from pain that won’t go away. One bright spot is the research that was awarded the 2021 Nobel Prize in Medicine, which might be used to treat chronic pain.

Several hundred thousand people around the world die from malaria every year, and developing good protection against the disease for the large part of the world’s population that needs it has proved difficult.

However, in 2021, the World Health Organisation (WHO) issued a recommendation for using a malaria vaccine from pharmaceutical company GSK. This autumn, the WHO recommended another malaria vaccine, developed by British researchers and based on Novavax adjuvant technology.

The former has a relatively low level of protection, and the latter has not been evaluated in extensive studies, making it advisable not to get your hopes up to high just yet. Nevertheless, these are significant advances that hold the potential for saving many lives, especially for young children who are often the most vulnerable to malaria.

Artikeln är en del av vårt tema om News in English.

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