Minneapolis — Last week was historic in the fight against cancer. Novartis got approval for the first treatment in a revolutionary new class of drugs, shortly after Gilead Sciences spent $11.9bn on a biotech company working in the field. Neither can rest on their laurels. Research in the field is moving so fast that today’s breakthroughs can easily become tomorrow’s has-beens. "I can’t think of any other therapies in oncology that have seen such rapid development," said Rachel Webster, senior director of oncology at Decision Resources Group, a healthcare research and consulting firm in London. "In the coming months and years, with the new therapies that are brought to the market, the best will be the ones that win, not necessarily the first." The novel cell therapies that reprogramme the body’s own immune system to attack tumours are just now coming of age, but their developers are already bracing for challengers. Unlike many traditional drugs, being first isn’t enough. Rival produc...

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