Personalized Cancer Care Requires Effective Diagnostic Tools

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On July 8th, the New York Times published a lead story “How Bright Promise in Cancer Testing Fell Apart” that questions the value of genetic testing to determine cancer treatment strategies. I wrote a letter to the editor, which the New York Times published on July 12th and read in part:

The larger reality is that patients benefit from personalized medicine every day.

Safe and effective targeted therapeutics have reshaped treatment for breast cancer and leukemia, for example; and just last month, reports from the American Society of Clinical Oncology of successful clinical trials for targeted therapies in melanoma and lung cancer are expected to do the same.

In fact, complex genomic tests have been on the market for years. A survey by the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development found that 94 percent of biopharmaceutical companies are investing in personalized medicine and that 100 percent are using biomarkers to learn more about compounds during the discovery phase of their research.

If it were not for the opportunities this field offers to improve outcomes by matching the right treatments to the right patients, we would not see industry or the federal government making these investments in an effort to advance the frontiers of medicine.

Clearly, as the story reports, some trials will fail and unfortunately, even a single case of fraud is too many.  Nevertheless, to leap to the conclusion (and print it on the front page of the New York Times) that cancer testing is in danger of “falling apart” or to suggest that we are locked into a one-size-fits-all paradigm overlooks current and future capacity to improve diagnosis and target treatment.  We should not lose sight of the value personalized medicine provides to patients while maintaining our commitment to scientifically sound research that supports molecular medicine.

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