New Cancer Drug Approvals From 2016

Chemotherapy is one of the most powerful tools we have to treat cancer, and research continues to find new chemotherapy drugs as well as new uses for existing ones. At the same time, newer types of drugs are continually being developed that work in different ways to attack cancer cells.

They include targeted therapy, which aims to more precisely identify cancer cells while doing less damage to normal cells, and immunotherapy, which uses the body’s own immune system to help find and destroy cancer.

Before any new drug can be sold in the United States, it has to go through an approval process by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA evaluates evidence from testing to decide whether the drug’s benefits outweigh any known risks. The FDA also provides doctors and patients with information about how to use the new drug safely.

In 2016, the FDA approved several new drug treatments for different cancer types that American Cancer Society editors believe will make a significant difference.

Bladder Cancer

Tecentriq (atezolizumab) is the first new drug approved in 3 decades for advanced bladder cancer. It’s part of a new class of immunotherapy drugs called checkpoint inhibitors.

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)

The targeted therapy Venclexta (venetoclax) is for people with CLL whose leukemia cells have a chromosome abnormality called 17p deletion and who have had at least one treatment already.

Head and Neck Cancer

Keytruda (pembrolizumab) was the first immunotherapy drug approved for head and neck cancer. It had already been approved to treat advanced melanoma skin cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. Opdivo (nivolumab), a similar dug (see next entry), was also approved for head and neck cancer later in the year.

Hodgkin Lymphoma

The immunotherapy drug Opdivo (nivolumab) is a new option for people with hard-to-treat Hodgkin lymphoma. It has also been approved to treat advanced non-small cell lung cancer, kidney cancer, melanoma skin cancer, and head and neck cancer.


Halaven (eribulin) is the first drug approved for people with liposarcoma (a type of soft tissue cancer) that has been shown to help them live longer. It’s a chemo drug that had already been approved to treat breast cancer.

Lung Cancer

Xalkori (crizotinib) is the first treatment for people with advanced non-small cell lung cancer who have a mutation in the ROS1 gene. This targeted therapy had already been approved for advanced non-small cell lung cancer patients with a mutation in the ALK gene.

Soft Tissue Sarcoma

The approval of Lartruvo (olaratumab) is a significant development because there are not many other treatment options for soft tissue sarcomas. Lartruvo is a monoclonal antibody, a type of targeted therapy.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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