Dying breast cancer patient calls for personalized medicine

New England-based biotech publicist Adriana Jenkins passed away yesterday following a 10-year battle with breast cancer. In her 15 years in public relations she represented many well-known biotechs, including Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, Alkermes, Avila Therapeutics, Constellation Pharmaceuticals, ImmunoGen, Pulmatrix and Synta Pharmaceuticals, notes Xconomy.

Jenkins was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer when she was just 31. Her doctors discovered that she had HER2-positive breast cancer, which accounts for about 25 percent of all breast cancer cases. And at that time Genentech was enrolling patients in clinical trials of a groundbreaking new cancer treatment called Herceptin. Herceptin is accompanied by a diagnostic test that determines whether the drug will be effective for the patients based on cancer type. The personalized medicine worked for Jenkins, giving her another nine years of life before the disease spread and finally claimed her life.

Before she died, Jenkins wrote an editorial in Forbes calling for pharma to embrace personalized medicine. Drugmakers waste billions on drugs aimed at a broad population when it's more likely success can be found in a treatment targeted to a specific patient population, she notes. Biotechs both large and small are pushed to become profitable quickly, and they fear narrowing a drug's potential sales with a diagnostic test. "The result of the focus on testing cancer drugs on all patients is painful trial and error," observes Jenkins.

To remedy the situation, Jenkins suggests a new law similar to the 1983 Orphan Drug Act that gives drugmakers developing rare disease treatments seven year of exclusivity and "fast track" regulatory review. "A comparable law could push drugmakers to develop PM drugs for cancer and other deadly ailments. It could combine additional market exclusivity with assurance of accelerated regulatory review," she states in her editorial. "I am so grateful for the extra time a PM drug gave me. My hope is that future patients have the same chance to benefit from personalized medicine."

- read Jenkins' op-ed in Forbes
- here's more from Xconomy