Investing in a cure

Key takeaways

  • Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally after heart disease.
  • Although scientists haven't yet found a cure, innovative treatments are entering the market, clinical data is opening doors for patients, and we're learning more about the complexities of the immune system.
  • The UBS Chief Investment Office's oncology-focused longer-term investment theme (PDF, 499 KB) looks at ways investors can steer capital toward innovative developments in cancer treatment.

Most of us know someone who has been affected by cancer. Although scientists haven’t yet found a cure, we’ve come a long way in understanding it: Innovative treatments are entering the market, clinical data is opening doors for patients, and we’re learning more about the complexities of the immune system.

Andrew Lee, Head of Sustainable and Impact Investing, UBS Global Wealth Management Chief Investment Office Americas, says these factors present an opportunity for investors to generate societal benefits alongside financial returns by allocating capital to companies searching for new treatments.

“We see a lot of interest from our client base in investing in commercial solutions targeting specific thematic areas,” Lee says. “We think this is reflective of a broader interest in deploying capital to bring positive outcomes."

Lee recently worked with UBS analyst Lachlan Towart on the UBS Chief Investment Office report Longer term investments—Oncology (PDF, 499 KB), which outlines how investors can steer capital toward innovative developments in oncology, from immuno-oncology drugs to late-stage trial results.

A growing need for cancer therapeutics

Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally after heart disease. There were more than 14 million newly diagnosed cancer cases worldwide in 2012.1 Nearly 22 million new cases could be diagnosed every year by 2030,2 driven in part by the fact that Americans are living longer.

“Long-term drivers such as population growth and aging are continuing to contribute to higher numbers of cancer cases globally," explains Lee.

In fact, UBS analysts expect new cancer cases to grow at around three times the pace of the population, which is likely to drive demand for cancer therapies higher than ever. The market for oncology drugs already surpasses USD 100 billion and is expected to grow well above GDP in the long term.

In the realm of oncology, there are opportunities for investors to put capital to work to create beneficial solutions and treatments, Lee says. “A lot of the capital that's being invested is to increase the availability and efficacy of those treatments."

New and exciting treatments

As scientists learn more about cancer biology and the complexities of the human immune system, a new era in cancer treatment may be dawning.

The first wave of immuno-oncology drugs—which harness the body’s own immune system to fight cancer—have come onto the market with promising results. Scientists are also looking at how to combine these drugs for an extra cancer-fighting advantage.

“Ongoing developments in immuno-oncology are indicative of the range of progress being made and support our belief that the market for cancer therapeutics could exceed USD 150 billion by 2020,” the report concludes.

There’s also important clinical data coming out this year, including significant late-stage trial results in lung cancer treatment. Additionally, the industry is closely watching personalized cancer treatments, known as CAR-T. Approved in late 2017, the use of CAR-T cell therapy—which targets a patient’s T cells to attack cancerous cells—was restricted to small clinical trials, but the effectiveness of these treatments is rapidly capturing the attention of researchers.

A financial investment for a better future

There is a particular need for cancer treatments and solutions in emerging markets: More than 66% of newly diagnosed cancer cases will occur in regions with the least resources to tackle them, the European Society of Medical Oncology estimates.

Lee notes that there is limited funding for a valuable segment of the drug-development process: translational research, which is when scientists apply what they’ve learned in the lab to develop tools and techniques to improve health outcomes.

Lee says the estimated amount of funding for translational research earlier this decade was around USD 7 billion, significantly less than the amounts dedicated to basic cancer research as well as clinical development funding. For investors who want to make a difference in cancer treatment, funding translational research can be one of many options to consider.

Such investments, he says, help pave the way for crucial medical advancements that could bring the world a step closer to being cancer-free.

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Disclosures