Personalized Cancer Medicines Helping Patients Live Longer, Healthier Lives

Changing the Way Patients Receive Care

07.01.13 | By Jennifer Wall

CBS News featured a segment over the weekend on the value of new cancer treatments and how precision medicine, also known as personalized medicine, is changing the way patients receive care. Not surprisingly, it appears that personalized treatments are becoming a more favorable option for many patients than the traditional chemotherapy route.

Personalized medicine is an emerging field that uses diagnostic tools to identify specific biological markers, typically genetic, and assess which medical treatments will be best for each patient. Personalized cancer medicines target specific underlying causes of the disease and work in the subset of patients whose cancer is driven by that cause.

One particular point that stood out for me was the distinction that was drawn between chemotherapy and personalized medicines.  It was described as the difference between using a bomb and using a sniper because you target the precise cells causing the cancer to grow. 

I had never heard this analogy before but I thought it was a very astute observation. 

During the interview, Dr. Mark Kris, thoracic oncology chief at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York said, “The best example is a disease called chronic myelogenous leukemia, CML.  That disease was treated with a traditional chemotherapy or a bone-marrow transplant, a very large dose of chemotherapy, the bone marrow had to be replaced.  People now with that illness are given a tablet, and they take a tablet, and many of these people appear to be cured, not just helped, but cured.” 

This marks an incredible innovation milestone that demonstrates how cancer care is undergoing a dramatic change from years past and how in many types of cancer, patients are living longer than ever before. 

Thanks to advances made in medical innovation, the five year survival rate for cancer patients has increased by nearly 40 percent since 1980.  When looking at CML alone, treatment advances have increased the 10-year survival from less than 20 percent to more than 80 percent, according to the American Journal of Managed Care.

Biopharmaceutical research companies are heavily invested in researching personalized medicines.  According to a survey from the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development, 94 percent of biopharmaceutical companies are working on personalized medicine and they expect significant growth in investment in the coming years. 

Additionally, more than 3,000 potential medicines in the biopharmaceutical pipeline are focused in the oncology space globally.  Among cancer drugs in development, 80 percent are potential first-in-class treatments that may help patients with serious unmet medical needs. 

Significant progress has been made to better equip cancer patients in their fight against disease, but at the same time, many challenges remain to better understand and tackle this complex disease. 

The path forward is one where collaborative partnerships among various stakeholders in the medical innovation ecosystem can continue to work together to build on the science so that incremental improvements can be made for patients and the entire U.S. health care system.

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