India sees more than a million cases of cancer every year. While, countless efforts are being made all over the world to find a cure of this life-threating disease, we believe Precision Oncology can be the game changer in this direction.
What is Precision Oncology?
Cancer cells are the normal cells that undergo genetic changes, allowing it to grow and divide very quickly. Precision Oncology is a targeted and specifically designed approach towards cancer cells. This innovative science involves analyzing and using patient’s mutated genes to design a treatment protocol just for them. The word precise stands true and important in case of Cancer, where it is clearly becoming evident that every cancer patient demands different intervention. Cancer is an extremely heterogeneous disease meaning that differences are seen not only between the cancer cells from different patients but also between cancer cells within the patient. The traditional ‘one size fits all’ concept which is widely used as a current treatment protocol may not be relevant in the future. Clearly, more effective strategies of understanding individual tumors and creating personalized treatment regimes are needed to deal with these challenges
Targeted Therapy in Precision Oncology
Targeted therapy which is the foundation of precision medicine is a type of cancer treatment which stops or slows down the growth or spread of cancer by targeting the proteins or molecules that control cancer cell growth along with its mutation and spread. This therapy is designed to target the effect of cancer-causing genes which is achieved when drug attaches itself to its target and stopping it from doing its job
Types of Targeted Therapy
Most targeted therapies are either small molecule drugs or monoclonal antibodies.
Small-molecule drugs: They are pills or capsules that can be swallowed by the patient and are small enough to enter cells easily, so they are used for targets that are inside cells.
Monoclonal antibodies, also known as therapeutic
antibodies, are proteins produced in the laboratory. These proteins are designed to attach to specific targets found on cancer cells. Some monoclonal antibodies mark cancer cells so that they will be better seen and destroyed by the immune system. Other monoclonal antibodies directly stop cancer cells from growing or cause them to self-destruct. Still others carry toxins to cancer cells. Monoclonal antibodies are usually given through a needle in a blood vein.
Future of Targeted Therapy
Targeted therapy drugs are technically the same drugs that are used in other ways of treating cancer like chemotherapy but they are preferred because they work in a targeted manner. Traditional chemotherapy works by killing cells that multiply quickly, whether normal or cancerous leading to more side effects and sometimes not so precise results.
Recent data by European Society of Medical Oncology on different types of cancer shows improved survival rates among patients assigned to targeted therapy, with treatment benefits that were stronger and lasted longer than prior systemic therapy.
The future of targeted therapy lies in the above-mentioned facts which clearly indicate its preference over other traditional ways of treating this life-threatening disease. It is believed that soon, most of the treatment options in all lines of treatment will be targeted therapies and not conventional forms of treatment.
Precision Oncology & Genomic Era
A continuous gene mutation in a highly multi-factorial disease like Cancer is the biggest challenge in its precise treatment and diagnosis. Genomic science holds enormous potential to transform the current strategies used for preventing, diagnosing and treating various diseases. As we move forward towards genomic era, information and data may not be an obstruction to understand and tackle complexities and challenges involved in the treatment and diagnosis of the cancer. But this holds true only if we strengthen our genomic data.
Indian Genomic Data: Where are we?
The primary genomics data being used for research in Asia-Pacific particularly in India where the density of cancer cases is very high is currently of individuals primarily from Europe and USA. Thus, the treatment decisions are limited to one-size-fits-all guidelines. Setting up an Indian genomic bank is important and could accelerate findings for advancing precision medicine.
In an effort to build up the genomic data capacity in India, Private as well as Public sectors have already started working with an aim of enabling new efficiencies in healthcare, medicine and life sciences. For eg. the Genome India Project (GIP) has been recently approved by the Indian Government. Funded by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), it is a collaboration between twenty Indian research institutions. Not just the government but number of start-ups are also working actively in this direction.
Although the strengthening of genomic data which is specific to India has already started, ramping up the entire process is still a challenge. A planned and teamwork approach where public and private sectors work together through collaborations at different levels of the drug discovery and delivery value chain can be the key to success.