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By Vanderson

Cancer drug sales are slowing down in the U.S., Reuters reported Monday. According to pharmaceutical research firm IMS Health, U.S. sales of oncology drugs increased only 3.5 percent in the first nine months of 2010, compared to sales growth of 23 percent in 2006, 14 percent in 2007, and 9 percent in 2008 and 2009. The slowdown in sales growth is primarily being caused by price increases as well as the entry of new generics as older, established drugs lose patent protection. The article also noted that many recent drugs are simply variations of existing drugs that wind up jostling for space in an already crowded market.

The article notes that the oncology field will largely be driven by innovation. Those seeking the cancer innovators of tomorrow might take a look at the following companies:

ImmunoCellular Therapeutics‘ (NYSEMKT:IMUC) cancer vaccine has drawn comparisons to Dendreon’s (NASDAQ:DNDN) Provenge. ImmunoCellular is currently advancing a dendritic cell-based vaccine to treat glioblastoma multiforme, the most common form of brain cancer.

Antigenics’ (NASDAQ:AGEN) lead product, Oncophage, is a therapeutic cancer vaccine that is formulated to target only cancerous cells. The company is currently recruiting patients for Phase I and II studies of its cancer vaccine for brain and central nervous system tumors. Antigenics was recently awarded $424,720 in grants under the IRS’ Qualifying Therapeutic Discovery Project (QTDP) program for promising therapeutic candidates.

Although Mannkind Corp.’s (NASDAQ:MNKD) insulin inhaler (currently in clinical development) has gained the most media attention, the company is also developing a therapeutic cancer vaccine. Last month, the company initiated a Phase II study of its immunotherapy vaccine in patients with advanced melanoma.

Both Curis (NASDAQ:CRIS) and Ariad Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ARIA) are developing cancer treatments which utilize cell signaling pathways that are linked to cancer.

Coronado Biosciences and Cleveland BioLabs (NASDAQ:CBLI) are both developing drugs that target the process of apoptosis, or programmed cell death. Cleveland BioLabs recently dosed the first patient in a multicenter Phase Ib trial of curaxin in patients with liver tumors. The company was also awarded a $244,479 grant under the QTDP program.

Nanospectra Biosciences’ technology turns light into heat for the focused, thermal destruction of solid tumors. On the opposite end of the temperature scale, NuVue Therapeutics utilizes cryotherapy for the site-specific targeting of soft tissue tumors.

OxiGene (NASDAQ:OXGN) is targeting ovarian cancer using a new type of therapy known as “vascular disrupting agents,” which works by collapsing the blood vessels inside of the tumor and “starving” it from within.

Threshold Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:THLD) is developing a tumor-targeting therapy for pancreatic cancer and other solid tumors. The company’s therapeutic platform is based on the concept of “tumor hypoxia,” or low oxygen concentration in the tumor. Threshold’s lead drug candidate, TH-302, is formulated to be activated within hypoxic cells, killing them and those nearby. The drug has demonstrated significant anti-tumor activity in preclinical studies.

Source: 8 Cancer Innovators to Watch