Every day, more than 20,000 people die from some form of cancer worldwide. In the U.S., it’s approximately 1,500 deaths from cancer every day (more than 10 times the number of people that die in automobile accidents). Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S., next to heart disease, accounting for nearly a quarter of all recorded deaths. There are many types of cancer, with each kind being more or less deadly than others. But, overall, if you do get cancer, there’s nearly a 50% chance that it will eventually take your life. The unique nature of the disease calls for what has been termed a magic bullet, something that can detect and hit only cells that are cancerous.

Although it is estimated that nearly a quarter of all cancers could be prevented by basic lifestyle changes, such as not smoking, eating a healthier diet (more fruits and vegetables), exercising, and generally maintaining a suitable weight, that still leaves over 400,000 cancer deaths in America alone believed unrelated to lifestyle.

Nevertheless, in spite of these grim statistics, there is more reason for optimism now than ever. That’s because scientists are learning how to work at the cellular and even molecular level in ways that were impossible before. This is critical, because cancer involves events at the micro sub-cellular level, making it difficult to attack with macro techniques.

The sub-cellular nature of cancer is emphasized by recent discoveries highlighting the role that genetics can play. For example, scientists have found that the absence of a single gene, called the GSTP gene, can increase the number of bowel tumors by a factor of 50. Other scientists have determined that certain naturally produced enzymes can have a dramatic effect on cancerous growths. Understanding the work of genes in cancer development can allow scientists to anticipate and treat various cancers before they become deadly, and such discoveries are now being made on a regular basis.

With heart disease, doctors can perform bypass surgery or provide other effective treatments that do not require manipulation of the inner workings of cells. With cancer, however, such approaches are a little like using an elephant gun to rid your house of ants. The real target is so small and elusive that good cells tend to get damaged or destroyed along with the bad. Although significant strides have been made to improve chemotherapy, radiation, and other macro treatments, progress against cancer has been frustratingly slow. Death rates are finally starting to decline, but scientists know now that the real achievements will be in the future, and probably the near future, as new technologies make it possible to deal with cancer on its own level. Rather than a single magic bullet, there will be many, operating in a carefully choreographed and highly focused attack on a particular cancer, including guiding assaults by the body’s own immune system.

TapImmune, Inc. (OTCBB: TPIV) is a good example of the new companies developing smart drugs to help the body identify and destroy cancerous cells. TapImmune’s vaccine technology is based upon helping individual cells better send up red flags whenever they become cancerous or infected with pathogens. This improved signaling allows the body’s immune system to destroy the cells before they become dangerous.

In addition to TapImmune, and giants like Pfizer (NYSE: PFE), there are a number of publicly traded companies focused on cancer research, drugs, and treatment, including:

• Abraxis Bio Science, Inc. (NASDAQ: ABII)
• Antigenics, Inc. (NASDAQ: AGEN)
• Ariad Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (NASDAQ: ARIA)
• Infinity Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (NASDAZ: INFI)
• Northwest Biotherapeutics, Inc. (OTCBB: NWBO)
• Cyclacel Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (NASDAQ: CYCC)
• Lixte Biotechnology Holdings, Inc. (OTCBB: LIXT)
• Access Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (OTCBB: ACCP)
• Burzynski Research Institute (OTCBB: BZYR)
• Cel-Sci Corp. (NYSE Amex: CVM)

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