As our understanding of genetics increases, the methods used by pioneering doctors to treat cancer are changing. Here at Tej Kohli, news of groundbreaking medical research is always met with great interest – so here we explore the possibilities for using precision medicine to tackle cancer.
What is Precision Medicine?
The term precision medicine refers to a new approach to treating and preventing diseases that focuses on factors that vary between groups and individuals, such as environment, lifestyle and, most importantly, genetics. Rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach, in which treatments and prevention strategies are developed to match a hypothetical average person, precision medicine is tailored to the patient in question.
By creating a more highly focused and specialised approach, precision medicine has the potential to allow doctors and researchers to better predict whether certain treatments will work with different patients and groups.
Although the term precision medicine is a relatively recent emergence, the concept has been around in certain fields of medicine for many years now. For example, cross-matching between donors and recipients of blood transfusions to reduce the risk of complication has been standard practice for decades. The idea of precision medicine is to extend this approach to cover genetics, allowing for improved treatment in more areas of healthcare.
How Precision Medicine Can be Used for Cancer Treatment
Until very recently, the majority of methods for treating cancer have been approved to treat tumours based on their location within the body, rather than the patient’s genetic makeup. However, the possibilities for using precision medicine as a means of tackling cancer have been explored with increasing frequency over the last few years – often with a heartening level of success.
In 2016, the main theme at annual American Society of Clinical Oncology conference was the potential of targeted treatments to transform cancer treatment and extend survival rates – hailed as a new era of cancer treatment.
Earlier this year the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approved the cancer drug Keytruda, which works by targeting the genetic characteristic of tumours rather than their location. Genetic mutations in certain genes mean that cells don’t fully repair errors in DNA, sometimes triggering cancerous tumours. These ‘mismatch repair’ genes are particularly susceptible to immunotherapy drugs like Keytruda.
However, the future success of precision medicine still faces hurdles. Despite immunotherapy treatments such as Keytruda having already found success treating skin cancer patients, including former US President Jimmy Carter, they don’t work all the time. Some patients remain unresponsive to these treatments, and researchers are unable to determine why.
One of the most significant challenges facing precision cancer treatment is that we still simply do not know all of the genetic factors that can cause cancer. Despite all our leaps of knowledge over the years, more research is needed into how and why cancer develops, grows and spreads.
Although there are many challenges yet to face in the attempt to tackle cancer, every breakthrough represents a further step towards progress. Our founder Tej Kohli is a believer in the possibilities of new technology and research, and new developments in precision medicine have the potential to improve the lives of countless people across the world.