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Creative destruction

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THE BEST weapon in the fight against cancer may be the human body itself.

In June, at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncologists (cancer experts), pharmaceutical giants Bristol-Myers and Merck presented data on clinical trials involving a new class of drugs, immunotherapies.

Traditional therapies use external means to fight cancer.  Chemotherapy uses one or more drugs to destroy cancer cells but kills healthy cells in the process.

Immunotherapy aims to harness the body’s own power to fight cancer.

How does immunotherapy work? T cells are the immune system’s soldiers, essential in the fight against disease.  PD-1 is a receptor on the surface of T cells.

When cancer strikes, the cells have protein molecules that somehow bind with PD-1, blocking the soldier T cells from fighting tumors.  Our defenses are not exactly destroyed, but they are rendered useless.

The logical step is to allow access, which is what anti-PD-1 drugs aim to do. By unblocking T cells so they can fight cancer, immunotherapy enables our own immune system to do most of the work.

So far, results have been promising. Studies found that when Bristol-Myers combined the drug Nivolumab with its immunotherapy drug, Yervoy, melanoma tumors decreased significantly more than with either drug alone.

Other studies showed that Nivolumab also aided in extending survival rates of kidney and lung cancer victims.

Bristol-Myers is now conducting phase three trials of immunotherapy drugs.

Merck’s own drug, Lambrolizumab, reduced tumors by a whopping 38 percent in people with advanced melanoma.  The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) called Lambrolizumab a breakthrough therapy.

3D printing

Immunotherapy is one of eight trends that Goldman Sachs analysts predict will cause “creative destruction.”  The words, which seem polar opposites, describe huge events that can disrupt existing conditions and potentially reshape industries.

I think the recent acquisition of the staid Washington Post by e-book pioneer Jeff Bezos of Amazon may be a disruptor, though it is too early to say.  (This did not make it to Goldman’s list, which was released on Aug. 5.)

On Goldman’s list is 3D printing.  Based on a blueprint of a digital model, the printer builds (not just prints) a real product  layer by layer, one at a time.  Also called additive manufacturing, 3D printing can use a variety of materials, like plastic (to make gadgets), metal (to make guns) and fiber (to make clothing).

Companies such as Stratasys and 3D Systems have used 3D printing to make industrial parts for automobile and airplane companies (such as Boeing).

But 3D printing has expanded beyond heavy industry.  Organovo in San Diego, California, makes bioprinters to create human tissue for medical research and regenerative purposes.  The printers have already created hearing aids, dental implants, prosthetic limbs.

Organovo can create blood vessels, lung tissue and even tumors for research, in partnership with drug companies Pfizer and United Therapeutics.

Creating functional human organs is likely still ten years away.  But 3D printing has already revolutionized medicine. The CNBC reported in 2012 that Wake Forest University in North Carolina had teamed up with the Armed Forces Institute for Regenerative Medicine to create cells that could be placed directly on an injury to make the wound heal faster.

Cornell University has created not just bone implants and knee cartilage but also heart valves.

LEDs

Light-emitting diodes (LED) bulbs are also disruptors.  While not exactly novel, the newest ones, particularly the Cree bulb, are far better than the older versions.  The Cree LED bulb is 85 percent more energy-efficient than conventional ones.

A Cree bulb provides 25,000 hours of light (other LEDs can last up to 50,000 hours) while the incandescent bulb is good for only 1,000 hours. Best of all, the Cree LED bulb is affordable.  One bulb costs around $10.

LED bulbs now have a 5-

percent market share, but Goldman predicts this can go up to 80 percent in 12 years’ time.  In Asia, the Taiwan-based Epistar is a LED leader.

Cloud computing

All of us, in one way or another, have already done cloud computing, although we may not know it.  When we use Gmail, post photos on Facebook, make online hotel reservation or tweet our thoughts, we are most likely in the cloud.

Cloud computing stores data or software in the net and delivers services over the net to be accessed by a company or a person, ideally anytime, anywhere.

Companies that use the cloud range from Amazon, Google and Microsoft (particularly through the Azure program) to Dropbox (file storage), Netsuite (business applications) and Salesforce (financial services).

E-cigarettes

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are also on Goldman’s disruptor list.  The battery-powered devices heat a nicotine solution to make a vapor, which is then inhaled.

Goldman says e-cigarettes are 99-percent less harmful than tobacco products.  They are also cheaper.  But Goldman warns that the FDA may soon put restrictions on e-cigarettes and taxes may increase.

Some studies show that e-cigarettes may be as addictive as the real thing.  Cynics point out that e-cigarettes are now being promoted by an industry in search of new (addicted) customers.  Thus, I believe that e-cigarettes, while they may be a disruptor, should not be heavily promoted in our country.

Other creative destructors are natural gas engine technology, big data and catastrophe reinsurance.

E-mail the author at blessbook@yahoo.com.


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Tags: Cancer , column , immunotherapy , Learning , queena n. lee-chua




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