As recently as ten years ago, just after completion of the Human Genome Project, the concept of a personalized approach to cancer treatment was largely just that—an idea of what could be. And companion diagnostics were limited to predicting patient response to Herceptin for breast cancer and Gleevec for chronic myelogenous leukemia.
But it was the introduction of these therapies along with the nascent field of gene sequencing that began to move the treatment of cancer from a broad-based, one-size-fits-all approach to one that seeks to better understand the unique underlying molecular pathology of each patient’s cancer.
“In the 1990s the pharmaceutical companies argued that because the cancer population is small the only way you could develop a drug and profit from that was by using a broad spectrum chemo approach,” said Richard Ding, CEO of bioTheranostics, a provider of prognostic and diagnostic cancer tests. “Because then you can hit on multiple tumor types and have a broad cluster.
“I think the poster child for changing this was Herceptin. It was able to demonstrate that even though the target population for breast cancer of 50,000 or 60,000 was once considered too narrow, that even with the complexity of making monoclonal antibodies, it showed you can make a business out this.”
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