How Effective is Precision Medicine in the Fight Against Lung Cancer?

August 14, 2020

Precision medicine, an approach that relies on drugs that target specific genes, has produced specular results by saving many individual lives. However, many of the mutations targeted by precision medicine affect only an exceedingly small proportion of the population. Thus, critics argue that the gains may not be worth the enormous expenses that run in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine offers some evidence that precision medicine may be having an effect at the population level through successfully treating more prevalent diseases such as common forms of lung cancer. In the study, NCI researchers examined incidence and mortality from lung cancer over the past 20 years and found that deaths from non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) dropped every year since 2006. Two-year survival rates for patients with NSCLC also jumped from 26% in 2001 to 35% in 2014. NSCLC accounts for about 76% of all lung cancers. Although researchers did not have data on which drugs patients received, they attributed the decline in mortality to patients receiving first-line therapies that target EGFR and ALK mutations which normally spell certain death for NSCLC patients.

Some scientists remain skeptical and asserted that the study can only imply correlation and not causation. “I find it a little confusing,” said Peter Bach, Director of Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Center for Health Policy and Outcomes. “I don’t see any place where they actually attempted to measure the impact of treatments on survival gains.”

Julia Rotow, a thoracic oncologist at Dana Farber said that the study matched what has been observed in clinical trials: “I think given what we know clinically about the benefit to patients of these new treatments,” she added, “I think it’s certainly reasonable to infer that the new therapeutic options are likely translating into the kind of survival benefit reported in this study.”

Read more about the study here.

(Source: Jason Mast, August 14, 2020)

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