?Personalized Medicine? is a 21st century approach to diagnosing and treating diseases using technologies like genomic sequencing to understand the nature of diseases at a molecular level. The concept that is increasingly making its way as a patient-centric approach into clinical research and care, and, over the next few years will increasingly become more included in the public dialogue. In fact, Rep. Patrick Kennedy introduced HR 5440 ? the Genomics and Personalized Medicine Act of 2010 last week to help bring this approach to the forefront of health care.
Historically, medicine has based diagnosis on symptoms and location in the body. And doctors treat patients based on these factors from giving aspirin for a headache to removing an organ in appendicitis. However, in more complex diseases, like cancer, such intuitive and generalized approaches to treatment do not have high success rates. For example, hair loss is common during many cancer treatments because the drugs used are generalized to target dividing cells. So while they may be deadly to rapidly dividing cancer cells, they are also harming normal cells like our hair follicles.
Personalized medicine looks at the disease differently. Instead of intuitive decision making based on what a doctor has been trained for or has seen before, personalized medicine muses advanced technologies to move toward precision diagnosis and treatment based on what went wrong at the molecular level. And many will be familiar with some of the personalized treatments such as GLEEVEC, for chronic myelogenous leukemia, and Herceptin, for a particular type of breast cancer called ?Her-2 positive.? These drugs are designed to attack proteins that went awry in the cancer cells. And when used in combination with molecular tests, doctors can tell which patients are likely to respond to specific drugs, and, equally important, which patients are not going to respond, so don?t put them through the treatment and toxicities.
As genetic testing becomes cheaper and more accessible in the next few years, we will have the opportunity to look at individual cancers under a molecular microscope to find out what went wrong and treat it specifically. And we will be tracking legislation, like HR 5440, to ensure that the research runs parallel with appropriate policies, particularly regarding access and reimbursement for these targeted therapeutics in the patients who will likely respond to the drugs.