Many Americans first heard the promise of precision medicine in January during the State of the Union address when President Obama announced a federal initiative: “to bring us closer to curing diseases like cancer and diabetes and to give all of us access to the personalized information we need to keep ourselves and our families healthier.”

New treatment options

Our deepening understanding of the biology of cancer has led to new approaches in cancer treatment that look at the molecular characteristics of tumors and patient genetics to develop targeted cancer therapies. We will not be able to fully realize the promise of precision medicine, however, until we can learn more from many more patients than we do today. In fact, we need to learn from all of them.

The current understanding of cancer primarily comes from what we learn through clinical trials that study the clinical benefits and side effects of different treatments. Unfortunately, only 3 percent of adult cancer patients participate in clinical trials, which drastically limits what doctors and researchers are able to learn. Several innovative projects and technology systems are underway to fill this void.

"It is time to transform unprecedented amounts of patient data into a teachable resource for the cancer community to advance precision medicine."

Understanding how patients react to different treatments is a key goal of ASCO’s first-ever clinical trial, the Targeted Agent and Profiling Utilization Registry (TAPUR) Study. TAPUR will enroll patients early next year to receive targeted therapies already approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat other types of cancer and collect information on the effectiveness and side effects of these treatments. With this information, we may be able to discover whether patients with other types of cancer could benefit from these therapies.

Leveraging technology

Becoming more widely available are health information technology platforms that securely store and analyze vast amounts of electronic health record data from thousands of patients, providing doctors with new information and insight to help them deliver more personalized care to their patients.

ASCO’s CancerLinQ is one of the big data projects will also help to expand the small pool of patients who participate in clinical trials into a sea of real world patients that could unlock untold mysteries surrounding the development and treatment of cancer. With this wealth of new information at doctors’ fingertips, it will be easier to identify patterns in patient outcomes and examine factors that impact the quality of care of each cancer patient.

Looking forward

Upcoming projects have the opportunity to teach us more about the interplay between a patient’s genes and different cancer treatments—an important aspect of developing personalized cancer care. These projects will provide the opportunity for doctors to examine how a patient’s genes might impact the patient’s response to different treatment options so that more tailored, effective treatment plans can be offered to individuals with cancer.

It is time to transform unprecedented amounts of patient data into a teachable resource for the cancer community to advance precision medicine. Harnessing big data will open up this new world of possibility in cancer care.