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EmTech: The Future of Cancer Treatment

Cocktails of targeted cancer therapies could push survival beyond just months of additional life.

DNA analysis is moving into medicine, and in specialties such as cancer genomics, it already has a foothold. Doctors can take a sliver of their patient’s tumor and have it sequenced and analyzed for molecular aberrations that can then be precisely targeted by a drug, assuming one is available (see this infographic for an overview).  But this patient-tailored treatment often just leads to “momentary great successes,” said Alexis Borisy at this morning’s EmTech 2012 session on personal genomics and medicine.

“[Targeted therapies] will lead to a wonderful six months or 12 months of high quality addition of life, which is important, but then the cancer will come back,” said Borisy, who cofounded the cancer genomics company Foundation Medicine.

“But we know the solution to this, which is approaching it with the right cocktail of therapies,” he said. Inspired by past successes in curing some childhood cancers with mixes of different drugs, Borisy said that combinations of therapies could lead to some “very meaningful advances in our care for cancer over the next decade.”

The future of genome-informed cancer treatments will be sophisticated blends of drugs specifically tuned to a patient’s tumor’s individual DNA code, he said. These cocktails will contain five or six different drugs, about half of which will target specific disruptions in a tumor. The rest will be more generalized cancer-fighting  compounds such as classic chemotherapeutics that destroy any rapidly proliferating cells.

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