People are looking towards 2017 with hopeful fervor as 2016 finally comes to an end. The popular opinion according to social media is that 2016 was, simply put, the worst year ever. For the Middle East, it was another year of instability, which has resulted in one of history’s greatest refugee crises. Then, in the United States, political contention, racial division, and fear of terrorism reigned supreme. As if that wasn’t enough, so many beloved celebrities died this year. Suffice it to say, most everyone is sighing in relief to be done with 2016. However, before we dismiss 2016 as a horrible year, let’s at least acknowledge all the great advancements made within the scientific and medical community.
Ranging from the common peanut allergy all the way to curing Ebola, 2016 has produced some incredible breakthroughs. Check out the top 16 medical advancements from this year and applaud the scientists and researchers for redeeming 2016.
Therapy for Peanut Allergies:
In October, DBV Technologies reported great Phase IIb results for Viaskin Peanut, which involves a non-invasive skin patch. This treatment reduces the symptoms of peanut allergy in children ages 6-11, who are more at risk of death due to accidental exposure to the peanut allergen. Currently undergoing Phase III of the trial, the final results are pending.
New Drug for Psoriasis:
Currently, Humira is the best-selling drug in the world. However, the new experimental psoriasis drug guselkumab may replace Humira as number one. The drug proved highly successful in the Phase III VOYAGE 1 study. After 16 weeks, 85.1% of patients showed a clear or reduced appearance of the disease. After 24 weeks, 80.2% of guselkumab patients had 90% skin clearance compared to only 53% for the Humira patients.
Treatment for Opioid Addiction:
In May, the FDA approved a buprenorphine implant for the treatment of opioid dependence. The implant, Probuphine, developed by Titan Pharmaceuticals and Braeburn Pharmaceuticals, provides a constant, moderate dose of buprenorphine for six months to patients as part of a treatment program. This new implant may finally end the opioid epidemic in America.
Cannabinoids to Treat Epilepsy and PTSD:
GW Pharmaceuticals have begun trials using a cannabinoid compound, Epidiolex, to treat epilepsy. In its Phase III trials, the cannabinoids reduced the frequency of seizures in one child with Dravet syndrome and another with Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome (LGS). With the FDA’s approval (which is still pending), Epidiolex will be the first effective treatment for these drug-resistant conditions. Additionally, in April the DEA approved the first clinical trial in which participants would be smoking marijuana. The trial is hoping to establish whether marijuana can have positive medical benefits for patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
First Drug to Treat DMD:
In September, those with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), a rare disease that causes the progressive degeneration of muscle due to a lack of dystrophin production, received great news. For the first time, the FDA approved a drug to treat DMD called Sarepta Therapeutics’ (NASDAQ: SRPT) Exondys 51. This drug therapy targets the exon 51-skipping DMD, which affects about 1 in 8 DMD patients.
Type 1 Diabetes Treatment – Dual Inhibitor:
Also in September, Lexicon Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: LXRX) announced that its experimental dual inhibitor of SGLT-1, which works in the intestines, and SGLT-2, which works in the kidneys, proved successful in a Phase III trial for type 1 diabetes. The dual inhibitor drug, sotagliflozin, may result in weight loss and lowered systolic blood pressure.
Type 1 Diabetes Treatments – Artificial Pancreas:
September continues to be an exciting month for medical advancements, as the FDA approved Medtronic’s (NYSE:MDT) MiniMed 670G, which is the world’s first artificial pancreas for type 1 diabetes. With its sensors, the device measures a patient’s blood glucose every five minutes, as well as measuring the insulin levels. In conjunction, there’s a pump worn on the abdomen that delivers insulin as needed based on the sensor’s feedback. This treatment will greatly reduce hypoglycemia and the overall health of type 1 diabetics.
Since the new CAR-T drug could completely change the way cancer is treated, it’s no surprise that several companies are competing to be the first to reach the market. However, there have been some recent deaths connected to the clinical trials, thus causing some setbacks. Currently, Novartis is proving to have the safest CAR-T treatment. Though it reported severe side-effects in 50% of patients, 82% of patients showed signs of remission in its Phase II trial for B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Genomic Directed Clinical Trials:
Rather than adhering to the gold standard of clinical trials, which is a controlled and randomized, researchers are selecting patients, based on genetic markers. This process will match patients with new experimental treatments with more accuracy. Additionally, this will reduce the time it takes to enter patients into experimental trials.
Cancer Screening Via Protein Biomarker Analysis:
Cancer screening largely relies on diagnostic imaging (mammograms), procedures (colonoscopy), or analysis of genetic data (genes associated with breast cancer) to identify patients who are at-risk. Now, there’s protein biomarkers analysis. This new addition to the cancer screening process is highly specific and sensitive, which will hopefully improve early cancer detection.
Cure for Genetic Diseases with Gene-Editing using CRISPR:
Based on analysis of Clustered Regularly Interspaced Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) technology, as well as the enzyme called Cas-9, researchers hope to cure genetic diseases by altering DNA in human tissue.
PD-L1 Drugs to Treat Cancer:
Roche’s Tecentriq (atezolizumab) obtained outstanding results in Phase III for bladder cancer in May. This breakthrough led to its recent approval for metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) in October. This is the first drug on the market to target the checkpoint inhibitor Program-Death ligand 1 (PD-L1). Additionally, Merck and Pfizer are developing avelumab, which has shown impressive results in Phase III while treating metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC). Merck and Pfizer, after evaluation, may also treat bladder cancer and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), as well as recurrent ovarian cancer.
In a 6-month trial, Nathan Copeland, who had been paralyzed from the chest down for ten years, wore a neural implant surgically wired to a robotic hand that provided a two-way electrical, sensory feedback. With this technology, Copeland was able to “feel” again.
First Three-Parent Baby:
Dr. John Zhang delivered the world’s first baby with DNA from three people this year! Two Jordanian parents, a team of scientists, and an egg donor teamed up to avoid passing on the deadly neurological disease, Leigh syndrome, carried within the mother’s DNA. Using the procedure called spindle nuclear transfer, the scientists extracted the good DNA from the mother’s egg and inserted it into a donor’s egg, which was then fertilized with the father’s sperm. As a result, the baby inherited DNA from both its parents and the egg donor. What a crazy world in which we live!
ALS-causing gene found:
Remember when your social media newsfeed only contained videos of the ALS ice bucket challenge, which had everyone dumping ice cold water on their head? Well, those silly videos paid off! Within one month, the ice bucket challenge raised $130 million, which was able to fund multiple research projects. Among the funded projects, scientists found a new ALS gene, NEK1, that’s now considered the most common gene in contributing to the disease. This discovery is a huge step towards developing an ALS therapy treatment.
The outbreak in West Africa from 2013 to 2016 resulted in 11,300 deaths. Moreover, the spread of Ebola exposed holes in global preparedness for infectious diseases, as Ebola reached as far as Texas. However, Merck pharmaceuticals manufactured a vaccine, rVSV-ZEBOV, which was studied in a trial involving more than 11,000 participants from Guinea. In the final stage of the trial after a ten-day incubation period, researchers recorded no Ebola cases. This vaccine is 100% effective, according to the medical journal, the Lancet.