In recent years, researchers have expanded the limits of science so quickly that methods of treatment thought to be impossible a decade ago are now a reality. Once-in-a-generation medical advances, driven by big data and genetic research, have ushered in a new era of medicine that is changing how we treat disease.
This innovation is on display with the recent U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of a new tumor-agnostic cancer treatment designed to counteract a specific genetic mutation as opposed to a specific type of tumor, such as breast or colon cancer. In the announcement of the approval, the FDA recognizes how it represents a changing trajectory in how we treat disease.
“Today’s approval marks another step in an important shift toward treating cancers based on their tumor genetics rather than their site of origin in the body,” says FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb in the release. “We now have the ability to make sure that the right patients get the right treatment at the right time. This type of drug development program … wouldn’t have been possible a decade ago because we knew a lot less about such cancer mutations.”
Commissioner Gottlieb’s comments about getting the right patients the right treatment at the right time represent continued progress in the field of personalized medicine. Many of today’s most devastating diseases—particularly cancer—are heterogeneous, meaning they express themselves uniquely in every patient, based on genetics and a several other factors. In fact, scientists today understand the term “cancer” represents more than 200 different diseases, each with a slightly different cause and thus the need for a different approach to treatment.
Personalized medicine recognizes these differences and aims to tailor treatments specific to a patient’s unique needs. Personalized medicine can also help save precious time and produce cost savings on treatments so patients are getting the right treatment at the right time much faster.