Imagine a world where physicians tailor their treatments to each patient’s individual genetic code. They also have the information needed to personalize preventative care, stopping many cancers before they become a problem. Plus, new technology lets them treat each cancer with drugs they know will be effective in this particular patient. Patient survival rates skyrocket and side effects become minimal.
That’s the future promised by personalized medicine, or genomics. It’s not yet a reality. But the medical and technological advances needed to create that future are already starting to affect cancer treatments today. And they’ll just keep getting better as research continues.
New Ways To Look At Cancer
In March of this year, the FDA approved Keytruda, an immuno-oncology drug by Merck. This drug treats tumors that are microsatellite instability-high (MSI-H) or mismatch repair deficient (dMMR). This new treatment isn’t specific to just one type of cancer. Rather, it targets several types of cancers that cause solid tumors with specific genetic markers. These include colorectal, breast, gastrointestinal, and prostate cancers.
We’ll be seeing a lot more drugs designed to target specific genetic abnormalities in the near future. Rather than treating all breast cancers one way and all gastrointestinal cancers a different way (for example), researchers are looking at the genetic issues behind the cancers and targeting those. In fact, projections estimate that about 50% of the cancer drugs in development right now will target specific biomarkers.
Individual Genetic Sequencing
Studying a cancer’s genetic code is only half the story, though. Individual patient genetics play a role as well. Already, some patients are having their entire genetic code sequenced along with the genetic code of their tumors. That lets physicians compare the healthy and unhealthy genetic codes. Depending on the specific type of cancer, that can allow for more effective, targeted treatments.
In the past, genetic sequencing has been prohibitively expensive. And since it didn’t always lead to better treatments, it wasn’t an option for many patients. But inexpensive genetic sequencing is right around the corner, which will open up the possibility of genetic testing as a standard part of cancer treatment. The more widely used genetic sequencing becomes, the more physicians and researchers will learn about how to target specific cancers.
Improved Patient Care
Improving patient care is the number one goal of personalized medicine. The more we learn about different types of cancer, the more specialized treatment we can offer. Rather than something like chemotherapy, which kills healthy and unhealthy cells alike, personalized medicine opens up the option to target just the cancer cells. And when genetic sequencing is used, physicians can also predict how individual patients will respond to different treatments.
This level of personalized treatment isn’t widely available yet. But we’re already using personalized medicine to match different types of cancer with the most effective treatments. Further tailoring the treatments to find the most effective drug for a particular patient and minimize side effects isn’t too far in the future. And just a step beyond that, we’ll start seeing drugs tailor-made for individual patients as we get closer and closer to making the future of cancer treatment a reality.