Home » Cancer Care » New Treatments Nudge Cancer Care Toward an Era of Personalized Medicine
Cancer Care

New Treatments Nudge Cancer Care Toward an Era of Personalized Medicine

With the approval of ten “personalized” cancer treatments in 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) nudged cancer care toward a promising era in which physicians use diagnostic tests to identify which molecules a patient’s cancer cells may be using to thrive, then prescribe a treatment that disrupts the activity of those molecules. Personalized treatments were uncommon as recently as a decade ago, but they accounted for more than half of the new cancer medicines FDA approved in 2018. The development anticipates a new era of personalized medicine, in which physicians use diagnostic tests to identify which treatments will work best for each patient.

The ten personalized cancer treatments FDA approved last year include Vitrakvi (larotrectinib), which is only the second personalized therapy the agency has ever approved to treat all tumors with certain molecular characteristics regardless of where in the body the tumors are located. The rest of the treatments are indicated for patients with certain skin cancers (three treatments), a type of blood and bone marrow cancer called acute myeloid leukemia (two treatments), non-small cell lung cancer (two treatments), breast cancer (one treatment), and tumors found in cells that interact with the nervous system or produce hormones (one treatment).

Genetic therapies

The majority of these new medicines are approved for use based on the presence of certain genetic mutations that can fuel the spread of cancerous cells. Because these targeted therapies address the underlying genetic components of cancer, their therapeutic impact is often greater. By tailoring treatment to the unique characteristics of each patient, these new drugs are able to deliver more value and make the health system more efficient.

The newly approved Lorbrena (lorlatinib) and Vizimpro (dacomitinib), for example, inhibit the activity of genes that are sometimes present on tumors found in the lungs, and are believed to promote the growth of a type of lung cancer called non-small cell lung cancer. Scientists began to document the effect of certain genes on non-small cell lung cancer cells at the turn of the century, and the biopharmaceutical industry has been developing therapies to target these various genes since that time. Thanks in large part to these therapies, the five-year survival rate for patients with non-small cell lung cancer is almost three times higher than for those patients with small cell lung cancer, which has genetic underpinnings that are still largely unknown.

With continued biomedical research, supportive public policies and revised medical practices, scientists hope personalized cancer care will someday help all cancer patients, facilitating an era of more effective and efficient health care.

Next article