I’ve been writing a lot about the Precision Medicine Initiative because I am excited about this approach to cancer treatment, and the advancements being made. The National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) has supported cancer research for all cancers since 1973, and is taking a leadership role in educating the public about how cancer treatment has less to do with the location of the tumor, and more to do with the genetic abnormalities. Yet today, it’s still the case in most medical care systems that cancers are classified mainly by the type of tissue or part of the body in which they presented—breast, lung, brain, colon, etc. But thanks to advances in scientific knowledge and DNA sequencing technology, things are changing, and researchers are discovering that cancers that arise in totally different parts of the body can sometimes have a lot in common. This is leading to rethinking how we approach clinical trials.
For example, The NCI-Molecular Analysis for Therapy Choice (NCI-MATCH) is a phase II clinical trial that will analyze patients’ tumors to determine whether they contain genetic abnormalities for which a targeted drug exists (that is, “actionable mutations”) and assign treatment based on the abnormality. NCI-MATCH seeks to determine whether treating cancers according to their molecular abnormalities will show evidence of effectiveness. For instance, a breast cancer patient may have the anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) gene mutation often found in lung cancer. The NCI-MATCH Trial will look at treating the ALK mutation rather than the type of cancer. NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins has also commented “so it may be that somebody who has a lung cancer has more in common with somebody with a bladder cancer than two people with lung cancer.” In all, more than 20 different study drugs or drug combinations targeting specific gene mutation will be used in the NCI-MATCH Trial as treatment for each particular gene mutation.
These findings provide yet another example of how cancer research has been leading the way in precision medicine. Still, much more remains to be done. As part of the new Precision Medicine Initiative, researchers will explore fundamental aspects of cancer biology, and seek to understand the mechanisms of drug resistance. NFCR will continue to support research that will accelerate the design and testing of more precisely targeted cancer treatments, including combination therapies. I am grateful for the continued public support for the important research being done by NFCR-supported cancer researchers. #Gratitude