When it comes to something as deeply personal and emotionally powerful as a cancer diagnosis, few people are satisfied with a one-size-fits-all treatment plan. Welcome to the next phase of precision medicine. Fueled by decreasing costs in genomic sequencing and the explosion of accessible, understandable Big Data, precision medicine promises millions of patients ever-more individualized, highly targeted treatment and prevention.
To find out what we can expect this year and beyond, I spoke with Dr. Clifford Hudis, CEO of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). He predicted major changes in precision medicine over the next five to ten years, as routine tumor testing identifies genomic patterns for targeting expands and drug matching to genomic alterations accelerates.
He didn’t mince words about the challenges, however:
“Leukemia, some sarcomas, kidney cancer, and a small subset of lung cancers are now identifiable as distinct molecularly with different treatments that have better outcomes. That’s the revolution we’re living through. As the result of this matching, we’re going to understand where precision medicine is paying off and where it’s not. At the same time, one of the big challenges we face is as we develop better treatments, we have to make sure they’re accessible. There’s a mismatch between the excitement precision medicine brings and expense of the drugs that are involved in precision medicine.”
Hudis is co-leading an upcoming openSAP Thought Leadership MOOC entitled The Future of Genomics and Precision Medicine. Ambitiously designed as a precision medicine overview for healthcare providers and policy administrators as well as patients and their loved ones, the course offers the opportunity to exchange questions and ideas with experts and peers in an open online forum. The two-week curriculum explains how precision medicine has already changed cancer care, its importance to the multi-disciplinary cancer care team model and balancing the quality and value of care, and looks at emerging therapeutic options on the horizon.
Precision medicine redefines cancer and treatment
According to co-instructor Kevin Fitzpatrick, CEO of CancerLinQ, an ASCO subsidiary, precision medicine reflects a fundamental shift in the definition of cancer. More than 76 oncology care centers have joined CancerLinQ to date, comprising a care network of approximately 1,800 oncology professionals and over 1.7 million individual patients. Fitzpatrick explained:
“Cancer is no longer a disease defined by the organ system affected, but rather a collection of many hundreds of rare diseases that have their molecular drivers based upon specific mutations. Using precision medicine, we can target therapy to the specific molecular disorder that is driving the cancer episode. Matching the therapy to those alterations has led to some remarkably improved outcomes.”
Cloud-based technology platforms powering advanced analytics are increasingly important to oncologists, giving them the ability to make actionable unprecedented amounts of data, including digital imaging, advanced molecular diagnoses and electronic medical records. This is where an in-memory platform provides a unique advantage to CancerLinQ. Fitzpatrick continued:
“Those in-memory capabilities allow technicians to quickly match the unique manifestation of the disease in an individual patient against a database of similar patients,” said Fitzpatrick. “They can gain new insights around how their colleagues have addressed a clinical issue, and what the outcomes from those interventions might be. We see this as democratizing access to the latest oncology information in a way that’s never been done before.”
For more insight on how technology is revolutionizing medicine, see Precision Medicine: More Than A Buzzword.