President Obama set an ambitious target in his first address to Congress last year when he pledged to “seek a cure for cancer in our time". However, cancer specialists say that rather than finding a cure, a more realistic scenario is that certain cancers that are fatal today will move into the realm of chronic illnesses.
A speaker at the marcus evans Advancing Companion Diagnostic Development Forum, 24-26 January in Barcelona, Darren Hodgson, Principal Scientist, R&D Drug Development, Oncology and Infection Therapy Area, Astra Zeneca, says that a great opportunity exists to make important strides in cancer research and ultimately improve the lives of patients.
“I think we are on the cusp and our ability to translate the science is the key element. How do we take all this fantastic science and translate it as rapidly as possible without compromising patient safety and translate it to the clinic for real benefit?
“We have the ability to take these developments, which in many cases have taken a lot of publically-funded money, and translate them into our understanding of disease and what treatments to choose for patients.”
On the question of Obama’s desire to find a cure, Hodgson says at present it is generally early detection and surgery that cures cancer.
“But we hope to make significant strides in management of particular cancers by understanding their biology and matching that biology to the drugs. By and large pharmaceuticals don’t cure cancer. We manage it and improve patients’ lives with drugs.”
However, science is continually working to improve outcomes for patients by monitoring the disease as it evolves, Hodgson explains.
“By monitoring what kind of cancer you have not just at diagnosis but continually throughout that management of the disease, I’m convinced that will help us to improve outcomes and manage long-term outcomes for patients. We want patients to still be here five years after coming through the door with the disease. The cancer may have evolved and requires a different approach five years later and our ability to monitor that will be crucial.
“If the technologies that allow us to do things called virtual biopsies using circular tumour cells can deliver on their promise – by adding the ability to characterise the disease in real time to the ability to monitor disease burden by enumerating the cells we should be able to really help people to manage cancer better.”
The marcus evans Advancing Companion Diagnostic Development Forum, 24-26 January, Barcelona
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