Precision medicine isn't science fiction; access shouldn't be either

January 30, 2015 | by Tami Dennis

If you haven’t heard the term “precision medicine,” you will. If you don’t have an opinion about access to it, you will.

precision medicine Precision medicine is expected to grow by leaps and bounds with the recently announced Precision Medicine Initiative. Now we must ensure that all cancer patients have access to the breakthrough therapies that result.

On Friday, President Barack Obama unveiled details of the Precision Medicine Initiative, an effort intended to accelerate cancer research in a powerful way, giving doctors new knowledge and new therapies to help them better treat individual patients much more effectively than is generally currently possible.

The specific goal of the $215 million plan is the creation of more targeted treatments for individual patients, not general-approach therapies that doctors then try to modify to the best of their abilities. As the White House said in a briefing:

"Most medical treatments have been designed for the 'average patient.' As a result of this 'one-size-fits-all-approach,' treatments can be very successful for some patients but not for others. This is changing with the emergence of precision medicine, an innovative approach to disease prevention and treatment that takes into account individual differences in people’s genes, environments and lifestyles. Precision medicine gives clinicians tools to better understand the complex mechanisms underlying a patient’s health, disease or condition, and to better predict which treatments will be most effective."

Science and medicine experts don’t simply support precision medicine, they're convinced there’s no other way to truly advance cancer therapy.

Said Steven T. Rosen, provost and chief scientific officer at City of Hope:

“Precision medicine is the present and future – individualizing treatment to maximize benefit and minimize side effects is the ultimate goal."
The future is already here. Researchers at City of Hope and elsewhere are currently developing new targeted therapies for an array of cancers, and the national focus on such work will undoubtedly fuel additional breakthroughs.

With such progress, however, comes an unsettling concern voiced by leading physicians such as Rosen.

“With certain diseases, we’ve made enormous strides already,” Rosen said in a recent interview with the L.A. Daily News. “The hope is that in the future, for almost all cancer patients, we may be more precise in treatments.”

But the definition of "all" is an issue.

As Rosen, an expert in precision medicine, pointed out to the L.A. Daily News, although the Affordable Care Act has done many wonderful things, it has not made the latest technologies available to all patients. The reason? Narrow provider networks. Top cancer hospitals, where the experts work together to provide leading-edge treatments, are often left out of such networks.

The current irony is that, as the number of targeted therapies grows, so too could the number of people unable to gain access to them. As Rosen said, that would be "a shame."

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Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion at City of Hope by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). City of Hope staff will explain what's required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.

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