ICAN’s Drug Discovery Efforts

ICAN has two missions: cutting-edge patient advocacy and enhanced drug discovery to improve and expedite the pipeline for promising anticancer agents. The drug discovery mission is to promote greater public awareness of promising anticancer drug discovery efforts which might well become part of tomorrow's standard medical treatment arsenal.

ICAN seeks to enhance and accelerate the anticancer drug pipeline through its aggressive Cancer Patient Advocacy Programs and Clinical Trials Advocacy Programs, public policy advocacy and education efforts, patient and clinician education, and ongoing conversations with cancer researchers, molecular profiling labs, pharmaceutical companies, and biotech companies. ICAN's Exon 20 International Research Consortium seeks to address challenges in drug discovery and development of compounds targeting exon 20 insertion mutations which insights will inform pan-cancer and pan-disease research efforts.

Of particular interest to ICAN's Scientific Advisory Council are small molecule anticancer compounds (isolated from marine invertebrates, terrestrial plants, or microorganisms) discovered by organic chemists and/or medicinal chemists; semi-synthetic compounds; synthetic compounds based on a natural product lead; or agents which target the signaling molecules/genes promoting the cancer cell (mechanism-based drug discovery).

Areas of interest in the discovery timeline include following the progress and accomplishments of organic chemists/medicinal chemists in specific areas:

  • Expeditions to collect raw materials that may yield potent anticancer compounds based on natural products drug discovery;
  • Isolation, structural elucidation, biological evaluation, and synthesis of the resulting anticancer compounds;
  • "Scaling-up" of the anticancer compound’s natural or synthetic supply, and
  • Each phase of preclinical development leading up to human clinical trials.

With nearly 600,000 lives lost to cancer in the United States alone each year and more than 7.6 million lives lost worldwide (cancer may well overtake heart disease as the number one killer of Americans in this decade), ICAN is striving to make a real difference in the War on Cancer. In many cases, the cancer patient's prognosis depends upon access to new anticancer agents—especially if the patient is no longer responding to standard therapy.


ICAN staff also focuses on the issue of compassionate release/Single Patient Investigational New Drug ("IND") Applications for Compassionate or Emergency Use, which request FDA approval of promising anticancer agents for late-stage cancer patients after the agreement on the part of either the pharmaceutical/biotech manufacturer of the drug or from the National Cancer Institute (if the NCI is the developmental sponsor of the drug).

One of ICAN's central goals is to expedite the delivery of effective anticancer drugs from laboratory to patient by reducing the amount of time it takes for these drugs to proceed from one stage of preclinical development to another. At present, anticancer drug discovery can take decades. By the time a compound showing anticancer potential has been isolated from a natural product (because of the thousands upon thousands of compounds present in a host marine animal or plant), the drug may be required to traverse up to twelve additional years of hurdles before it sees its first cancer patient in a clinical trial setting.

By ascertaining where the bottlenecks are along the anticancer drug pipeline, and by supporting preclinical testing at cancer research centers across the country through its lobbying and legislative efforts, ICAN seeks to responsibly cut the time it takes for an anticancer drug to traverse each phase of preclinical development.

ICAN Drug Discovery Initiatives

Links to drug initiative articles:

Guidestar Platinum Seal of Transparency 2021