Blood Cancers in the Era of Precision Medicine
Prevention & Treatment Precision medicine has been omnipresent in the news this last year and is starting to meaningfully impact blood cancers.
As stated by President Obama during the unveiling of the White House Precision Medicine Initiative last year, “Doctors have always recognized that every patient is unique, and doctors have always tried to tailor their treatments as best they can to individuals.
You can match a blood transfusion to a blood type — that was an important discovery. What if matching a cancer cure to each person’s genetic code was just as easy?” And then earlier this spring, Vice President Biden presented to the scientific community his Moonshot Initiative “to eliminate cancer as we know it." In his comments, the vice president highlighted the importance of data aggregation and sharing to accelerate progress, as well as the major changes needed in how clinical trials are run.
PM’s first steps
Innovative precision medicine (PM) studies are focusing on comprehensively analyzing the cancer genomes of a large number of patients to understand how current drugs work in what disease subtypes, and identifying molecular abnormalities that could then be targeted by highly selective therapeutic agents.
“Soon, thanks to technology, blood cancers will be fought in real time just as the Zika virus is today.”
Today, there are a number of PM trials giving patients drugs that match their cancer genetic blueprint, the largest and most comprehensive of which is often being referred to as “master protocols.” These include the NCI-MATCH and ASCO TAPUR, opened this year to blood cancer patients, with more to begin shortly.
New channels of exchange
In order to allow the best innovations to develop from the various PM initiatives, open and rapid communication of findings is essential. To this end, large data repositories were launched in the last few months such as the genomic data commons, as well as disruptive endeavors, run under federated data ecosystems such as Beacon from the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health. And soon, thanks to technology, blood cancers will be fought in real time just as the Zika virus is today.
Patients have an important role to play, as they are no longer simply human subjects, but rather active participants in the PM research process. Cancer patients want to learn more about their disease and the best treatments that may exist. And the vast majority want to readily contribute their data to help develop better solutions for themselves, their fellow cancer fighters and the larger cancer community. The internet, social media and new wearable technologies offer novel ways for patients, clinicians and researchers to engage with one another in an ongoing and dynamic manner. Initiatives like Count-Me-In are now tapping into these new “citizen scientists” in unprecedented ways.
The time is now. Being precise has never been more important or promising for blood cancer patients.