Innovation Matters: The Evolution of Cancer Therapies

In this video from NPC’s Innovation Matters series, Dr. Peter Emtage describes the evolution of cancer therapies and the importance of ensuring patient access to these medicines.

Cell and gene therapies are a growing area for cancer treatment. Biopharmaceutical innovation is moving cancer treatment from a ”sledgehammer” approach to a ”finesse” approach, explains Dr. Peter Emtage, CEO of Santa Ana Bio and Venture Partner at Versant Ventures. 

In this video from NPC’s Innovation Matters series, Dr. Emtage describes the evolution of cancer therapies and the importance of ensuring patient access to these medicines and bolstering innovation to produce future discoveries.  


My name is Peter Emtage, and I’m an immunologist by training. I’ve spent about 25 years in the drug development space. I’ve really grown really fond of and pulled into the direction of translational research -- bench to bedside -- mainly early research, early clinical studies, and I've done late-stage clinical development. But the main aim is really interrogating how the immune system can be an integral part of therapies both across oncology and autoimmunity.

What are the most important biopharmaceutical innovations of the past 20 years?

We've gone through a renaissance in the way patients with not only cancer, but various you know indications and areas of disease have been treated. You know from my own personal experience and heart are cell therapies. These have really pushed the boundaries of patients with cancer, and they've been instrumental in bringing hope to patients and their families in the hematology, lymphomas, and leukemias therapeutic area, where we're still trying to understand what it would take to bring benefit to patients with solid tumors. And then there's gene therapies. We see the ability to go in to an individual and replace fixed mutations and kind of deliver genes that have therapeutic benefit.

What area of innovation are you most excited about?

The evolution of cancer therapies toward patient benefit is a really intriguing one. It goes from a sledgehammer approach to a finesse approach to really starting to ask the question, what from a patient's perspective will provide benefit? We spent years lumping different stages to cancers into different stages, only to realize within the last 20 years that each patient is vastly different with respect to the mutations that they carry, which make them individual, which means that they require a more personalized therapy. And so I think being able to evolve that technology, along with advances in how we intervene, is going to be critical for patients to get the best standard of care going forward, and I think we're poised to do that with some of the analytical approaches and the technical approaches that are building.

How can we ensure patient access to innovative medicines?

As a drug therapy person as a drug developer for the last 25 years, you see the benefit of innovation across multiple areas. You know, we have a saying here that, for any success clinically, 300 entrepreneurs will pop up to help you solve the fundamental problems of getting that therapy out into the community and to the patient. And, you know, I think that needs to go hand in hand, not only with technological development and therapeutic development but also policy and whatnot from a developmental perspective.

When I think about making strides from a health care perspective, I do think that we need to really foster and add a competitive advantage within our environment to allow these entrepreneurs to bring forward their new ideas. We need to make sure that we have a very healthy venture capitalist perspective on how we do that. But we also need to make sure that when we start to discuss potential pricing for drugs, to keep in mind that some of that money goes back into the R&D portfolios, and that's how we get the next iteration of that drug or the next advance to that pipeline.


Learn more about the impact of biopharmaceutical innovation

Innovation Matters