A new method of cancer care - precision medicine - is being trialed

Precision medicine in oncology – a revolution in cancer treatment and its impact on talent, recruitment and skills

Billy Williams, Account Manager at FMC Global Talent.
Billy Williams, Account Manager at FMC Global Talent.

Over the past half a century significant advances have been made in the detection, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery have made up the majority of treatment options for cancer, however in recent years new approaches have been at the forefront of oncology research.

Precision medicine in oncology, whilst in its infancy, provides a promise of a new way of treating cancer.

The current cancer treatment landscape

As it currently stands, when you are diagnosed with cancer you are likely to be put on the same course of treatment as others who have the same type and stage of cancer.

Why then are there variations in response to treatment amongst patients with the same cancers?

Research has shown that cancer is extremely heterogenous. Differences can be seen between cancer cells from different patients, as well as cancer cells from the same patient. The genetic changes that occur within the tumors of patients is the cause of the cancer’s growth and spread, and the reactions they have to treatment. These genetic changes cause the variation in treatment responses between patients with the same cancer. Furthermore, the same genetic changes can be found across different cancer types.

This means that a new way of looking at oncology treatment needs to be considered to account for these genetic changes. Here’s where precision medicine comes in.

What does precision medicine mean for oncology treatments?

The National Cancer Institute defines precision medicine as ‘using the genetic changes in a person’s tumor to determine their treatment’. In basic terms, it aims to move away from the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to cancer care and focus more on personalized medicine.

Genetic profiling of an individual patient’s tumor will aim to match an accurate and effective treatment to the patient. This is done through a biopsy where a sample taken is looked at in a DNA sequencer to assess and predict the genetic changes the tumor will go through over time.

The ultimate goal is to create treatment plans that respond to specific genetic changes within each individual cancer patient.

There’s already evidence that it can work

Prior research and discoveries have hinted at the potential for success in precision oncology treatments. The discovery of the BCR-ABL gene in chronic myeloid leukemia allowed the development of a selective inhibitor for targeted treatment coverage. This improved the overall survival rates of CML patients to 90% over five years.

Also, some breast cancer genes have been found in gastric and bladder cancers, meaning that they are likely to be prone to similar genetic changes and may be able to be targeted by the same medicine.

It is, however, important to note that there are limitations to how far we can currently go with precision medicine. There have been only a small number of clinical studies undertaken, with small sample sizes, but research is ongoing.

Where do we go from here?

Although currently not in mainstream healthcare providers, this approach is being clinically trialed.

Currently, the NCI is conducting the MATCH (Molecular Analysis for Therapy Choice) clinical trial with the aim of determining whether the personalised treatments of cancer through the profiling of genetic changes in tumors could be effective.

The goals for this trial are to determine the percentage of patients who have a ‘complete or partial response’ to treatments and the percentage of patient for whom their disease does not worsen for at least six months (this is known as progression-free survival). The treatments will be considered promising if at least 16% of the patients experience tumor shrinkage.

If precision medicine proves to be an effective method of targeting and treating certain cancer types, it may provide a revolutionary new way of approaching oncology treatment for both patients and clinical professionals, and the companies producing the technologies.

New scanners, DNA sequencers and machines that provide treatment will require both selling and servicing, opening up the big players in the oncology market to the need for more talent for both sales and engineering roles.

So what does it mean for talent in the oncology market?

As with the development of any new technology, the rise of precision medicine will alter the recruitment landscape for both oncology diagnostics and drug delivery. Recruitment in this area will be accelerated as the demand for specific skills increases.

Companies in the precision medicine space will be looking for the best talent to support their new technologies including top sales teams, marketers and engineers. Solid recruitment plans will need to be made to stay competitive and make the most of this emerging market.

If you’re a medical company who want to have a chat about your current recruitment plan, or want to start planning for the future, get in touch with me!