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Personalised medicine leads to better cancer outcomes

13 June 2016
Appeared in BioNews 855

Genetic sequencing leading to targeted treatment significantly improves cancer patient outcomes in early-stage clinical trials, according to a study.

The meta-analysis – which examined the results of 346 phase I cancer drug trials – found that patients were six times more likely to respond to treatment when this 'personalised' approach was used.

'Our analysis shows that, in the era of precision medicine, phase I clinical trials using personalised therapy with a biomarker-based approach can do more than assessing the toxicity and side effects,' said Dr Maria Schwaederlé of the University of California, San Diego, lead author on the study. 'These early trials can result in improved outcomes for patients, even among people whose disease is resistant to standard treatments, by selecting patients who will respond best using a personalised approach from the start.' 

In personalised or precision medicine, cancer treatments are based on targeted gene sequencing or using a patient's whole genetic profile. This can provide a more tailored treatment that a patient is more likely to respond to or which results in fewer side effects. Of the 346 studies analysed, 58 used a personalised, biomarker-based selection strategy while the rest used a generic approach. 

In total the studies involved 13,203 cancer patients – 30 percent in the personalised trials responded to the treatment compared with just 4.9 percent in the generic trials. Those patients who responded were also saw these improvements last longer. Patients with haematologic (blood) tumours had 13.6 months of progression-free survival in the precision medicine trials compared with four months in the generic treatment trials. Patients with solid tumours had 4.1 months of progression-free survival in the precision medicine trials compared with 2.8 months in the generic treatment trials.

The research was published in JAMA Oncology and presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting in Chicago, which highlighted the topic of precision medicine.

Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK's chief clinician, who was not involved in the study, said: 'We're starting to move from general treatments chosen on the basis of the tissue where the cancer starts and what the cancer looks like, to an era of molecular-designed therapy, targeting a tumour's genetic fingerprint.'

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