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Brian Beck


tooltip iconBrian Beck was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer at age 54. In January 2023, when his cancer recurred after several initial treatments, he enrolled in a clinical trial testing a combination of two HER2-targeted therapies, tucatinib and trastuzumab, which has kept his cancer in check. Two weeks after he enrolled in the trial, the therapy was approved by the FDA. He shared his story in the AACR Cancer Progress Report 2023.

Snapshot of a Year of Progress

We are in an era of extraordinary scientific progress against cancer. Breakthrough discoveries in the last decade across the spectrum of medical research are advancing the frontiers of cancer science and medicine. The unprecedented progress against cancer, enabled by decades of federal investments, has led to profound improvements in cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis, and treatment. As a result, the overall U.S. cancer death rate has fallen by 33 percent between 1991 and 2020, a reduction that translates into averting an estimated 3.8 million deaths from cancer. Furthermore, the number of children and adults living with a history of cancer exceeded a record 18 million in January 2022, the most recent date for which such data are available.

AACR cancer progress report 2023 cover

Among the advances that occurred in 2023 are 13 new anticancer therapeutics that were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Approval of several of these groundbreaking drugs highlights how researchers are rapidly decoding the complexities of cancer biology to transform patient outcomes. For instance, researchers have found that abnormal cells in about three to five percent of patients with metastatic colorectal cancer, the second most common cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., produce excessive amount of the HER2 protein, which causes tumor cells to multiply uncontrollably and metastasize to other organs in the body. This knowledge led to the FDA approval of the first of its kind combination of two HER2-targeted therapeutics in January 2023. The approval expanded the treatment options for patients with colorectal cancer, such as Brian Beck, whose tumor cells produce excess amount of HER2 protein. In 2023, the FDA also approved several molecularly targeted therapeutics to treat a range of blood cancers, including quizartinib (Vanflyta) to treat patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) carrying mutations in FLT3 gene, which affects 25–30 percent of AML patients, and pirtobrutinib (Jaypirca) and zanubrutinib (Brukinsa)—two therapeutics targeting Bruton tyrosine kinase (BTK), which is essential for survival of B immune cells—to treat patients with various types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

In 2023, immunotherapy, an exciting area of research and drug development that has revolutionized cancer treatment, also experienced extraordinary progress. One immunotherapeutic, retifanlimab-dlwr (Zynyz), which works by releasing the brakes from immune cells and unleashing their power against cancer, became the first new immune checkpoint inhibitor approved by the FDA in 2023. The immunotherapeutic was approved for adult patients with metastatic or recurrent locally advanced Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare and aggressive form of skin cancer. Another class of immunotherapeutics, called T-cell engaging bispecific antibodies, work by helping immune cells find cancer cells for elimination by the immune system and have shown great promise in treatment of certain types of cancer. In 2023, the FDA approved two T-cell engaging bispecific antibodies—epcoritamab-bysp (Epkinly) and glofitamab-gxbm (Columvi)—to treat patients with certain types of lymphoma.

Lesa Kirkman, Cancer Survivor

As AACR President (2023–2024) Philip D. Greenberg, MD, FAACR, noted in the AACR Cancer Progress Report 2023, “Nearly all advances in cancer research and cancer therapies have evolved from studies in basic science. As we envision and advance the frontiers of cancer science and medicine, breakthroughs in precision medicine enabled by technologies, such as synthetic chemistry, single cell genomics, and liquid biopsy, are moving rapidly from the laboratory to the clinic, and they're going to change the way cancer is prevented, detected, treated, and monitored, so we can continue to improve the quality of life for more patients with cancer.”

With the number of cancer cases diagnosed in the United States rising every year, it is vital that the AACR increases public understanding of cancer and the importance of cancer research for saving lives. These efforts are even more important because not increasing investment in cancer research will impede the momentum against cancer and result in the loss of an incredibly talented and creative young workforce that is infusing innovative ideas and modern technologies in cancer research. The annual AACR Cancer Progress Report is a cornerstone of these educational efforts and the AACR’s efforts to advocate for increased annual federal funding for government entities that drive progress against cancer and improve public health, in particular, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Cancer Institute (NCI), FDA, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

AACR President (2023–2024) Philip D. Greenberg, MD, FAACR: Envisioning the Future of Cancer Research and Patient Care

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AACR Annual Meeting 2023

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