AACR Stories: The AACR Cancer Progress Report 2021

Clinical breakthroughs against cancer built on a foundation of decades of discovery science. 

The American Association for Cancer Research’s annuaAACR Cancer Progress Report illuminates how cancer research continues to drive progress for patients with cancer. The report chronicles a year of advances in basic, translational, and clinical cancer science, expanding upon decades of research. 

This year’s report also highlights the enormous strides in cancer research and treatment since the National Cancer Act was signed into law 50 years ago in 1971. 

For example, decades of public health policies and education have reduced the smoking rates in the United States from 37 percent in 1970 to 14 percent in 2019. Moreover, research-driven advances have led to a significant increase in the five-year relative survival rates for patients with lung cancer—from 12.3 percent to 21.7 percent. The report features a timeline that tracks research milestones and clinical breakthroughs that have helped contribute to progress against lung cancer throughout the history of the National Cancer Act. 

For Steve Castellaw of Highlands, North Carolina, the development of sotorasib, a therapeutic targeting the KRAS G12C mutation in his cancer, has allowed him to get back on the golf course and return to normal activities despite a diagnosis of metastatic non-small cell lung cancer.

As the AACR Cancer Progress Report 2021 points out, “Developing effective therapeutics that target KRAS has been a daunting challenge and discoveries over the past five decades have fueled the development of sotorasib. Approval of sotorasib and other KRAS inhibitors that are progressing from the bench to the clinic not only brings hope for NSCLC patients, such as Steve Castellaw, but it also holds future promise for treating other KRAS-mutated malignancies that include pancreatic and colorectal cancers.”

The approval of the KRAS inhibitor sotorasib is one of the 16 new anticancer therapeutics approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration between August 1, 2020, and July 31, 2021. The AACR Cancer Progress Report 2021 details these approvals, in addition to the 11 previously approved anticancer therapeutics that were approved for treating new types of cancer during this period.

The report also highlights how the National Cancer Act of 1971 laid a foundation for a robust and innovative cancer research community that has contributed to decades of progress for patients in the U.S. and around the world. 

In the U.S., the overall age-adjusted cancer death rate has decreased by 31 percent from 1991 to 2018, a reduction that translates into 3.2 million lives saved. 

Fueled by discoveries made over the past 50 years, molecularly targeted therapeutics and immunotherapeutics have substantially increased the five-year survival rates for patients with formerly intractable cancers, like lung cancer and metastatic melanoma.

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