Following on from yesterday’s post, here’s our second report from the annual American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) meeting in Washington D.C.
The theme of this year’s AACR meeting is “personalising cancer care through discovery science” – a concept that’s very much in focus in cancer research right now. The aim is to discover and develop anti-cancer therapies that conform to the three Rs – the Right Drug for the Right Disease for the Right Patient.
Whereas conventional drug discovery has always been about finding the Right Drug for the Right Disease, in the case of cancer it’s becoming increasingly clear that the “Disease” is a lot more complicated than previously thought. Breast cancer, for example, is a very different disease from pancreatic cancer, but even within breast cancer there are at least ten different sub-types, classified on the basis of their genetic make-up.
And there are further complications – one interesting session at the conference showed that there was a significant difference in the incidence of certain sub-types of breast cancer among people with different ethnic backgrounds – an effect that’s probably due to underlying genetic variations between people as a result of their biological heritage.
This is where the third R comes in – the Right Patient. Most drugs – especially anti-cancer drugs – only work in a proportion of patients who receive them. The race is now on to analyse the genetic and/or molecular profile of a patient’s individual cancer and prescribe drugs that are most likely to be effective for that particular person.
While this approach could help make a real difference, there are a number of challenges. For example it is essential to establish the clinical infrastructure to manage this process, and to have a wide-ranging arsenal of drugs approved for use in this way.
There’s also the risk that tumours will evolve to become resistant to treatments, however carefully these are selected. But new research from our scientists suggests a way to overcome this. And, of course, there are big questions over how to pay for these expensive new tests and targeted treatments.
Despite these important challenges, it’s clear from the mood at the AACR meeting that personalised therapy is going to play a big role in the cancer treatment of the future.
But exactly how that will work, and who will benefit, remains to be seen.
Raj Mehta is a business development executive at Cancer Research Technology