The American Society of Clinical Oncology is the leading professional organization committed to conquering cancer through research, education, prevention, and delivery of high quality patient care. Its Annual Meeting provides a forum where major advances in cancer are presented to its members consisting of over 30,000 physicians involved in all aspects of oncology. The meeting is also well attended by the press as well as members of the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, diagnostic, and investment communities as it provides a rich source of information about progress in cancer.
This year’s ASCO meeting, which is still in progress, has already demonstrated that personalized medicine is impacting virtually all aspects of cancer care and that its benefits are just beginning. In his presidential address, Dr. George W. Sledge, Jr., considers genomic advances will rapidly “change our understanding of cancer biology; it will identify new targets and previously hard to treat diseases, and will explain the causes of drug resistance.” In other presentations, tremendous progress in the treatment of metastatic melanoma, lung cancer, prostate cancer, sarcomas, breast cancer and others gives hope that improvement in cancer survival and remission rates will be occurring rapidly due to the application of personalized medicine to this group of dreaded diseases. A major basis of optimism in the war against cancer relates to the development of personalized approaches such as targeted therapies directed toward the specific abnormality responsible for the patient’s cancer, the use of companion diagnostics to identify the specific abnormalities, the ability to test tumors for their chemosensitivity in vitro prior to using a therapy, the availability of predictors of potential adverse outcomes of treatment, and the identification of surrogate end point biomarkers to determine whether therapy is working. These are all applications of personalized medicine tools to the treatment of patients with cancer.
Personalized health care is built on the development of a personalized health plan which identifies an individual’s specific health care needs based on a multiplicity of factors including their inherited genome as well as the impact of a lifetime of environmental factors leading to their current health status and care needs. The approaches of personalized health care work well to enhance health and well-being, to support primary care, and to personalize the treatment of chronic disease. It is in the field of cancer, however, where the importance of personalization is not only obvious, it has already contributed greatly to the quality of care and has received tremendous interest from multiple constituencies.
This year’s ASCO Annual Meeting in Chicago once again indicates that personalized approaches to care are not only the wave of the future in rationalizing and improving care, they are already being applied successfully to amongst the most dread diseases experienced by humans.