Scientists say we’re in a medical renaissance of sorts where the goal of curing cancer – the many different versions of it – may actually be in reach. NY1’s Erin Billups has more in part two of her look at precision medicine.
It turns out Irene Price’s bladder cancer was better treated with drugs used for breast cancer. Her story, an example of the shift in cancer care – at least for advanced stage patients at hospitals like Weill Cornell Medicine, where they’re practicing bench to bedside care, also know as precision medicine.
“It used to be you had colon cancer, or you had prostate cancer and you would be treated that way. Now we’ve realized that many cancers have different driver mutations or different alterations that are more important than where the cancer actually originated,” says Dr. David Nanus, Division Chief, Hematology & Medical Oncology Weill Cornell Medicine.
Patients’ mutations are kept on file and studied, and when new treatments become available, they quickly find out which patients may benefit.
“I have patients who five years ago would have died that are still alive. So in four or five years, we’re hopeful that we’re going to have another new drug. We may not be able to cure you, but maybe we will. But if not maybe we can turn this into a chronic disease, just like diabetes or heart disease, you take a lot of drugs, you don’t necessarily die of those illnesses,” says Dr. Nanus.
With the help of super computers tailoring treatment to a patient’s specific needs, is no longer something just for the rich.
“Sequencing technologies have gone from millions and millions of dollars to do one test to now a test that costs a few thousand dollars. As time goes on we’re going to see that the costs are going to become very small, the time it takes to do it will become smaller,” says Dr. Mark Rubin, Director of Precision Medicine Institute at Weill Cornell Medicine/NY Presbyterian Hospital.
Institutions all over the world are taking similar approaches to treating cancer – looking for mutations in tumor tissue samples.
The next step is sequencing a person’s genome through blood, known as a liquid biopsy and that’s just the beginning.
“We want to be able to identify the patient at risk, before they develop the tumor that’s going to be most aggressive,” says Dr. Rubin.
And hopefully, doctors say, they can identify those who have disease that won’t cause harm, cutting down on overtreatment.