As the year winds down, we’re reflecting on an area of cancer innovation that saw significant milestones during 2017: personalized medicine. Cancer is personal—it affects different people in many different ways. Treatment goals and priorities differ by individual. Innovation in personalized medicine recognizes that cancer is best treated when it steps away from a one size fits all approach and toward a more tailored one. This individualization creates opportunity but also presents challenges in the regulatory and payer processes, which stakeholders across the oncology community are working to address. In this blog, we spotlight just a few of the personalized medicine highlights from this past year.
One headline-making achievement in personalized medicine from a regulatory perspective during 2017 was the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) first approval of a cancer medicine based “solely on a genetic biomarker.” The particular drug is classified as an immunotherapy, which works by activating a person’s own immune system to attack their cancer. The approval marks a pivotal time in the field of gene therapy and immunotherapy, as it signals a shift away from cancer medicines being developed based on the location of a tumor, but instead, by the genetic makeup of the disease.
Beyond this approval, there were accomplishments made in the lab and clinical research that provide hope for a bright future in the field of personalized medicine. For instance, two small clinical studies for a personalized cancer vaccine were the first to evaluate if the immune responses provoked by immunotherapy could actually impact tumor growth—and the results were encouraging. Not only have there been advancements made in cancer therapies, but also in the ability to determine if a specific therapy will work in a person based on their unique genetics, such as gut biodiversity.
Another major breakthrough we have seen this year is in the field of molecular targeted therapy, which unlike most cancer treatments, is designed “to attack and kill only the cancer cells of a specific type of cancer,” rather than both cancerous and healthy cells. While still in the clinical trial phase, molecular targeted therapies hold the potential to significantly improve patients’ quality of lives while undergoing cancer treatment.
As we embark on a new year, it’s important to remind ourselves of the great medical innovations that help people, like Bill Nack, get back to the lives they were living before a cancer diagnosis. Also important is ensuring that payment models reflect the advances that we are making in treatment, so that patients have access to these therapies and that these models reflect what patients value in their care. But remember, there’s still more work to be done and we’re looking forward to seeing the advancements that come to light during 2018.