What are you willing to risk?

By: Frank Corden, Senior Director of Enterprise Solutions, New England Controls

I came in early again this morning, not to beat the traffic but to gather my thoughts.  I’m not one of the writers who can effortlessly churn out interesting content as a seamless stream of thought.  I need a bit of quiet to put words to paper (or in this case to a laptop).  So I got to the Boston convention center about sunrise, with the guys who want to beat the traffic, or who want to start early so they can call it a day soon after lunch, and the construction and road workers who always seem to start early.  It’s quiet, and I can process all I’ve seen this week at #BioTechWeekBoston.

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In the quiet of the morning, I recalled why I love living close enough to visit Boston regularly.  For those of you who are visiting the city, I hope you’ve had the chance to walk the Freedom Trail or visit the USS Constitution.  Our country started in New England, especially in Boston, and we residents are fiercely proud of that.  Things could have gone very poorly for those folks.  When you visit any of the sites from the Revolutionary Period, anywhere up and down the east coast and you read the historical accounts, you realize that when Benjamin Franklin said, “We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.,” it wasn’t an idle statement.  These folks risked everything, and I for one will be forever grateful.

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So when I think about the risks we are asked to take or are by conscience are compelled to take in our roles in this wonderfully challenging business, they seem small in comparison.  Yet the benefit from taking these risks is immense. The keynote prepared by Dr. Lambert of ImmunoGen and presented on Wednesday was enlightening.  The long list of professionals who have worked on cancer research and in particular on Antibody Drug Conjugates (ADCs) have taken risks again and again.  When looking at the numbers presented, the goal seemed daunting.  Dr. Lambert pointed out that chemotherapeutic agents that work well get 99% kill rates of cancer cells.  Sounds good, until he pointed out that you may be starting with 1012 cells and the 1% left over represents 10,000,000,000 cells.

What a challenge.  Working literally for decades on finding promising therapeutic targets, viable drug candidates and ADCs as a delivery mechanism, the scientists, engineers and investors working in this area have made personal and professional sacrifices and taken tremendous risk all while believing (without knowing for sure) that the solution was possible.

With the first few products such as Adcentris (first approved in 2011) and Kadcyla (approved in 2013) successful in the market, and another 60 odd molecules progressing through the pipeline, the concept of producing a series of smart bombs to treat a range of intractable cancers may be becoming reality.

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Pictured above: Structure of ado-trastuzumab emtansine from RXList.com

So to all of you who threw yourselves headlong into the effort to attack those many walls that stood between the promise of ADCs and the reality of the technologies in the 90s and early ‘00s; thank you.  It was in large part a result of your willingness to sacrifice and take risks that enable the rest of us to stand here today knowing that new classes of cancer are treatable, and maybe just maybe, curable.

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