As sequencing gets cheaper and scientists begin to unravel the underlying genetic factors in various types of cancer, it is now increasingly possible to find out why once-promising drugs failed in some patient groups but could offer big advances in niche populations.
Dr. David Solit, an oncologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, wanted to solve the mystery of why some patients, called "outliers" or "super responders," have strong recoveries or have long-term benefits from cancer drugs that have little to no positive outcomes in most patients. Reuters reports that Solit started by looking at the case of a woman with advanced bladder cancer who was the sole survivor in a 45-patient study of the Novartis ($NVS) drug Afinitor. It turns out that two particular gene mutations made her particularly receptive to the treatment.
Now, researchers are hoping to study these patients in a new light--important work that could reveal new uses for currently prescribed or shelved treatments. Sloan-Kettering, Houston's MD Anderson Cancer Cancer and Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute are all launching programs dedicated to looking at outlier patients, according to Reuters.
The NIH's National Cancer Institute, based in Bethesda, MD, has teamed up with academic researchers for a new "super responder" initiative, Reuters reports, aimed at pairing up patients with rare gene mutations to drugs that have shown promise in helping other patients with the same genetic mutations.
What's more, quickly evolving technology is ushering in a new era for individualized cancer treatments. When once it took tens of millions of dollars to sequence the human genome, it now costs about $5,000. And the genomics community expects to push that cost down even more, to about $1,000, in the near future.
- here's more from Reuters