Precision oncology is the branch of precision medicine focused on providing a personalized, molecularly informed approach to cancer treatment. While this approach holds tremendous promise, the question still remains: Will precision oncology change how we treat cancer, and what should we be doing about it?
How is the precision oncology field evolving?
Buying into the premise that precision oncology may just be the “next big thing” for cancer treatment, many companies have already begun expanding their internal capabilities and offerings, and gaining access to that of others through collaborations or M&As. The past few months alone saw many developments in the precision oncology field:
In support of the large-scale adoption of precision medicine for a wide range of diseases, enrollment commenced for the “All of Us Research Program”, which looks to collect health data from 1 million people in the US.
Philips showcased their range of oncology solutions designed to integrate patient information and facilitate data-driven support in the precision medicine space.
Johns Hopkins unveiled a new mathematics-based approach to generate actionable, personalized insights from genetic data sets.
Bayer and Loxo Oncology set out for the approval of neurotrophic tyrosine receptor kinase (NTRK) gene fusion biomarker-guided therapy. The approval of this targeted therapy looks to build on the success of Merck & Co.’s PD1 inhibitor, Keytruda, as a treatment for cancers exhibiting the microsatellite instability high (MSI-H) biomarker. Such therapies depart from the conventional organ or tissue-targeted therapies and act as enablers for precision oncology.
However, despite significant progress in the field, companies are still largely failing to address one of the most pertinent challenges associated with precision oncology: providing large-scale access to this novel approach to treatment.
Can Strata Oncology bring down precision oncology’s heavy price tag?
Many companies do currently offer tumor molecular profiling services in support of adopting a precision oncology-driven approach to treatment. However, these services all too often come with an exorbitantly high price tag, thereby limiting patients’ access to these potentially ground-breaking tools for treatment. In response to this finding, Strata Oncology (the precision medicine firm which recently closed a $26 million deal with Pfizer and Merck), has employed a largely unique cost-directing strategy in an attempt to change this reality.
Strata Oncology strives to accelerate precision oncology advancement by removing the monetary barriers to cancer treatment. The company allows advanced stage cancer patients access to tumor molecular profiling services at no-cost to the patient, with the cost of testing transferred to the clinical trial administrator. The information generated from these profiling services is subsequently used by Strata Oncology to pinpoint clinical trials offered by the company’s many partner institutions. In doing so, not only are advanced stage cancer patients directed to promising therapies, but clinical trial enrollment and consequent drug development is greatly enhanced.
How is this going to change the ecosystem?
Strata Oncology looks to change the precision oncology ecosystem, creating a “win-win” situation for all stakeholders. Their offering will maximize positive treatment outcomes and improve the standard of care for advanced stage cancer patients.
Strata Oncology’s approach will also change the face of the clinical trial system, with the efficacy of potential therapies measured in cancer patients boasting tumor profiles that correlate with the specific drug targets, making clinical trial results more meaningful. Therefore, drugs will enter the market more rapidly as pharma companies will be able to test drug compounds more effectively in homogenous groups of trial subjects.
Lastly, in line with the current hype around big data and its collection, the data collected from these clinical trials will stimulate further drug development by providing researchers with a springboard to better identify prospective targets and test potential drug compounds.
What should Big Pharma be doing about it?
Companies that address the many factors underpinning a patient’s personal state, disease progression, and response to treatment, are set to transform the healthcare space. To stay ahead of the game, Big Pharma should, therefore, seriously consider developing their own approach to address these factors, which are not limited to the interplay between the patient’s unique genome, transcriptome, proteome, lipidome, and metabolome, as well as, various environmental factors.
Alternatively, Big Pharma may look to partner with Biotech companies that are already developing such an approach. Roche recently adopted this strategy when the Big Pharma giant formalized an agreement to acquire the genomic profiling specialist, Foundation Medicine; a move that aligns with the company’s personalized healthcare strategy to advance cancer therapeutic development.
Other interesting companies active in this space include:
uBiome, the microbiome-based precision medicine company that uses artificial intelligence, machine learning and statistics to analyze the human microbiome.
2bPRECISE has developed a platform to generate genomics-based insights to support both clinical decision making and scientific studies.
The Biotech start-up, Newomics, has developed the tools allowing for proteomic, metabolomic, and lipidomic analyses of a variety of different biological samples.
Startups active in the development of smart wearables are also beginning to tap into the precision medicine craze. The personalized health monitoring startup, Kenzen, detects changes in the body and generates health alerts and notifications in real-time using the company’s sweat smart patch.
Companies, such as Strata Oncology, that address these factors in such a way that minimizes the associated costs, will boast even more transformative power. These companies will truly help in the shift from treating the “average” patient, using a “one size fits all” approach, to treating the holistically unique one.
Written by Melanie Shneier
Life Sciences Analyst. As an analyst at Signals Analytics, Melanie has been involved in a range of projects in the life science field. She holds a BSc (Hons) in biochemistry and cell biology from the University of the Witwatersrand, as well as a postgraduate diploma in management from the Wits Business School.
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