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Personalized Medicine vs. Advanced Cancer

Molecular Profiling Extends Lives of Cancer Patients When Other Treatments Fail
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

April 21, 2009 (Denver) -- A personalized approach to therapy is extending the lives of some people with advanced cancer who failed to benefit from standard drug treatments.

Using molecular profiling, “we were able to predict which drug would best help a patient based on a tumor’s characteristics,” says Daniel Von Hoff, MD, senior investigator at the nonprofit Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix.

“This approach can help people [whose cancer has progressed] on everything else,” he tells WebMD.

The study involved 66 patients who had failed to respond to between two and 13 different drugs for a variety of advanced cancers, including breast, colon, and prostate cancers.

“Normally, we would have to consider using an experimental therapy. But using fairly standard molecular techniques, we were able to find a conventional target for conventional drugs.

“For a breast cancer patient with estrogen receptor-positive cancer, for example, we could use an estrogen-receptor [blocker such as tamoxifen],” Von Hoff says.

In 18 (27%) of the patients, the personalized treatment delayed cancer progression, compared with previous treatments. These patients lived an average of 10 months, compared with five months for the entire study group.

The greatest benefits were seen in the 18 patients with breast cancer.

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Personalized Medicine Catching On

“With this trial, we are showing the power of personalized medicine, using the tools we already have available to us” Von Hoff says.

The idea of using molecular markers to personalize treatment is catching on, says Michael Caligiuri, MD, chairman of the committee that chose which studies to highlight at the meeting and CEO of the Comprehensive Cancer Center - James Cancer Hospital at Ohio State University.

At Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, for example, the tumors of almost all cancer patients are being analyzed for genetic mutations.

The molecular pathology lab, which opened in March, “is intended to give more information about an individual patient’s cancer, so they can treat it in a very specific way, thereby significantly increasing the odds of success,” says lab co-director John Iafrate, MD.

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