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Cancer expert heralds 'golden age of oncology' as doctors gather for meeting

? Cancer expert says we are entering the "golden age of oncology."

? There will be multiple winners in immuno-oncology.

? U.K. venture capital environment is "healthy."

Ahead of the June 2 start of the largest meeting of cancer specialists, Kapil Dhingra, a medical oncologist and former head of Roche Holding Ltd.'s oncology clinical development, spoke with S&P Global Market Intelligence about the landscape in global cancer research. Founded in 1964, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, or ASCO, gathers together the world's leading cancer doctors and researchers annually.

Dhingra is uniquely placed to comment on both the scientific advances — and the setbacks — facing big pharma today. Through his firm, KAPital Consulting LLC, he advises early stage research companies and venture capital firms seeking to commercialize advances in cancer research. Here are some of his comments, lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

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S&P Global Market Intelligence: There has been a 45% rise in new drugs in oncology the last decade. Where does that leave us for the next decade?

Kapil Dhingra: As I look ahead at the next decade, I don't see us going down at all. I like to say we have entered the golden age of oncology, and it's clearly a culmination of 30 to 40 years of research. All of the understanding of the molecular basis of cancer and cancer biology is finally translating into meaningful results, and these results are more targeted towards cancer and they have a much more meaningful impact on cancer. So this revolution started in the early to mid-1990s and I don't see it slowing down anytime soon, at least not in the next 20 years.

About 87% of those new cancer drugs in development drugs are targeted therapies. Looking ahead, how do you see this playing out?

I think that's pretty much what the breakdown will be. Now, you have to be a little bit careful of the nomenclature because at the end of the day, every drug has a target. Maybe clarify that in the past, from 1945 to 1990 let's say, most of our drugs were chemotherapy type of drugs, they had a target, obviously, but they were not so selective for the cancer. But in terms of biology, we have become much more selective in targeting cancer, and that's where most of the advances are.

Is Car-T commercially viable?

Yes, I think it is for sure commercially viable. The reason it is commercially viable is because of the efficacy that has been seen so far in some of the lymphomas.

Will it work for other types of cancers than leukemia and lymphomas?

Very likely, yes, but we are in early stages. I think there may have to have a different approach for Car-T for solid tumors, but I think in the little bit longer term, it will work.

What do you think is going to happen with bispecifics?

Bispecifics will remain part of the equation for sure. This upcoming ASCO I think we'll see the first real evidence of efficacy of a bispecific antibody in solid tumors.

Moving on to immuno-oncology, how is that going to shake out? Who is gaining ground in that particular field of research at the moment?

It's a complicated question as you can imagine, there's so much going on in immuno-oncology; it is not one thing. I don't believe anybody has any unique insight into it. I think there will be multiple winners in the immunotherapy space. Not the one winner. So going beyond PD1 [therapies that target a specific checkpoint protein on immune cells], the jury's still out as to who the winner will be. It depends on the smart bets people make rather than the blind combinations.

What about venture capital investment in the U.K. vs Europe?

I advise a lot of different VCs. I find the U.K. environment actually quite healthy. The last few years in general have been very good for the VC world, everybody is flush with cash, they have raised a lot of money everywhere. Going forward, I believe things are going to get a little bit tougher in that the easy money is probably made and the market is starting to differentiate between really good companies and not so good companies. A couple of years ago, everybody was able to get an IPO done. Today it's starting to be far more selective, and I view that as a very healthy thing because I think it's not good for the long term, if low quality science can get funded or low-quality companies can get bought out for massive premiums.