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Personalized Medicine in Cancer: What does it mean and how is it done?

Personalized Medicine in Cancer: What does it mean and how is it done?

  • In the past five years in particular, researchers have been looking at ways to employ our immune system to fight cancer using immunotherapy drugs. This treatment alerts the body’s immune system to the presence of hidden tumours, so allowing the body’s defences to launch an attack on the cancer cells.
  • We’ve known for many years that cancer is invisible to the immune system, but we hope this will make it visible so the cancer can be detected. We already have the first results of some early clinical trials and they’re hugely exciting.
  • I think this will be an important area of growth for treating cancers, especially lung and skin cancers, in the next 10 years. In the past, these types of cancers have stayed under the radar, making them hard to detect early and treat using conventional methods.
  • Another area where there’s lots of research activity is looking for signals in the blood. We are hoping to be able to do very detailed analysis of the blood to pick up early signs of cancer much sooner, which will be an enormous frontier to explore.
  • We’re looking at how we can really mine the information we can get from more advanced blood tests to help more people.
  • I believe in the future, new technological development will make a major difference to how radiotherapy is delivered too. We will be able to shape the beam and direct it more precisely. It means we can deliver a stronger dose that will cause less damage to other parts of the body. At the moment, 40 per cent of those cured of cancer have radiotherapy at some point during their treatment. With this more hi-tech way of delivering it, we hope this might increase even further.
  • I can see that individualised treatment or ‘personalised medicine’will progress. As we find out more about the particular genetic makeup of tumours, we will be able to give specific drugs to target it.
  • In the past 40 years, the likelihood of surviving cancer has improved from one in four to one in two. In the next 20 years we at the charity want to reduce that risk even further to three in four. I think that’s a realistic aim as we’re now at a very exciting time for research into all types of cancer.
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