A result of years of oncology research and extensive clinical trials, precision therapy has ushered in a new era in cancer medicine. As its vast potential continues to unfold, this innovative approach is revolutionizing the treatment journey and improving outcomes for countless patients. How? In essence, it is making cancer treatment more personalized, and therefore more effective.
Prior to the concept of precision therapy, most treatment plans were designed for the average patient instead of the individual patient. Traditionally, the majority of patients received chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, or a combination of these three mainstays of cancer treatment. Although this one-size-fits-all approach can be effective for a subset of patients, its success is limited by an inherent flaw; namely, no two patients or tumors are exactly alike. Indeed, the behavior of cancer and its response to treatment can vary widely, even among patients who have the same type of tumor originating in the same organ or tissue. What’s more, when a tumor is treated with a broad-brush approach, healthy cells will inevitably be damaged along with the cancerous cells.
By focusing on the unique characteristics of each patient and each tumor, precision therapy is improving cancer treatment by leaps and bounds. It takes into account many highly nuanced factors, including each patient’s age, genetic makeup, individual and family health history, diagnostic test results, environment, diet, and lifestyle. Most notably, precision therapy focuses on cellular DNA mutations—the precise genomic abnormalities that drive the growth and spread of each tumor. As such, it enables physicians to tailor treatment plans to target the genetic drivers of a tumor and potentially spare healthy non-cancerous cells, thereby minimizing unwanted side-effects and ultimately helping each patient achieve the best possible outcome and quality of life.
Advances in Precision Therapy Established the Groundwork for the Development of Immunotherapy
One promising and evolving type of precision cancer therapy is immunotherapy, which is designed to harness the power of the body’s immune system to fight and destroy cancer cells. The immune system is a complex network of organs, tissues, white blood cells, and proteins found throughout the body. Working together, these components protect the body against harmful invaders, such as bacteria, viruses, toxins, and other pathogens, including cancer.
Although some aspects of immunity are innate, others are acquired. For instance, after the initial exposure to a foreign invader, certain infection-fighting white blood cells (B lymphocytes) produce specific antibodies that allow the immune system to recognize and defend against the invader in the future. Antibodies are proteins that fight infection by attaching to antigens, which are unique molecules found on the surface of a pathogen.
Despite the effectiveness of the acquired immune system, many types of cancer are still able to evade it. For instance, some tumors secrete immunosuppressive chemicals that surreptitiously activate immune checkpoints. These proteins, which are found on the surface of certain immune cells (T cells), normally regulate the immune system and help prevent indiscriminate attacks. As a result, the immune response to the cancer is effectively shut down, and the tumor is able to grow and spread unimpeded.
To counteract the immunosuppressive effects of cancer cells, some immunotherapies utilize monoclonal antibodies, which are laboratory-produced proteins that target a specific antigen. Certain monoclonal antibodies can block the activity of abnormal proteins on the surface of cancer cells. Others—which are known as checkpoint inhibitors—can boost the immune system by “releasing the brakes” activated by cancer cells on immune checkpoints.
In sum, immunotherapy is a game-changing form of precision therapy that works by stimulating the immune system or removing cancer-imposed restraints on its response to a tumor. Immunotherapy shows great promise as a cancer treatment, and scientists are currently evaluating it as a potential therapy for virtually every type of malignancy.
M2GEN Is Hastening the Development of Immunotherapies & Other Precision Therapies
Through genomic profiling and decades of research, scientists have established that cancer is a heterogeneous disease that requires tailored treatment, thus further underscoring the importance of precision therapy. Despite its immense promise for achieving better cancer outcomes, however, precision therapy presents many challenges that must be addressed before its potential can be fully realized. For instance, scientific progress is hindered by the sheer volume of the data that researchers must gather, organize, and analyze before they can draw meaningful conclusions from it. At M2GEN, we are paving the way for precision medicine by making large amounts of data accessible to researchers, allowing them to glean valuable insights from it.
As an oncology-focused bioinformatics company, M2GEN recognizes the critical importance of precision cancer therapy. We also understand that when it comes to cancer treatment, time is of the essence. To help our research partners unlock new findings and drive science forward, we have built a vast genetic dataset and biobank. As the facilitator of the Oncology Research Information Exchange Network (ORIEN®)—an alliance of the nation’s top cancer centers—M2GEN has access to an unprecedented amount of longitudinal clinical and molecular data. By structuring this data in such a way that makes it easily accessible, M2GEN is helping our research partners utilize it to its fullest potential. As a result, researchers are able to identify clear targets for personalized cancer therapies. Together, we are piloting the development of the next generation of precision cancer medicine.
If you believe your organization could benefit from a research partnership with M2GEN, contact us today to learn more. We encourage you to join us in the immense and challenging task of leveraging genetics to match each cancer patient with the most effective treatment.