Chicago: The United States launched the largest clinical trial of its kind Monday aimed at studying targeted therapies for cancer based on the genetic traits of tumors, a field known as precision medicine.
The US National Cancer Institute plans to enroll about 1,000 patients beginning in July, experts said at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting in Chicago.
“This is the largest and most rigorous precision oncology trial in history,” said James Doroshow, deputy director of the National Cancer Institute.
Rather than treating cancer based on its location — whether breast, colon, lung or otherwise — the approach consists of identifying the molecular anomalies of different cancers in order to determine the best treatments for each individual.
For example, a patient with lung cancer might be best treated with a medicine typically used for another kind of cancer, such as breast cancer, if the tumors share a similar mutation.
The promise of precision medicine is that it may someday lead to more effective treatments and shorter clinical trials for the some 200 different types of tumors known today.
Modern medicine has made huge strides when it comes to treating children with cancer, and four times as many youths now survive cancer compared to decades ago, researchers said.
Life expectancy after a battle with pediatric cancer is also longer than it used to be, according to the findings released at the ASCO meeting.
The study was based on an analysis of more than 34,000 participants in the federally funded Childhood Cancer Survivor Study, which follows five-year survivors of childhood cancer diagnosed between 1970 and 1999 at 31 US and Canadian hospitals.
“Fifty years ago, only one in five children would survive cancer, and today over 80 percent are alive five years after diagnosis,” said lead study author Gregory Armstrong, a pediatric oncologist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Child cancer survivors still face an increased risk of heart disease and a second cancer in the future, but improvements have been made by offering more refined and less harsh treatments than in the past, he added.
“Now, we’ve not only helped more children survive their primary cancer, but we’ve also extended their overall lifespan by reducing the overall toxicity of treatment in more modern eras.”
Researchers found that among children who live five years after a diagnosis—those known as five-year survivors—only six percent are expected to die in 15 years’ time.
That’s a big improvement over the 1970s, when there was a 12.4 percent mortality rate among children with cancer after 15 years.
Researchers credited a gradual refinement of treatment, including lower intensity treatment for many pediatric cancers, for the gains in survival.
“While the modernization of cancer therapy has probably made the most significant difference, improvements in supportive care for survivors, and screening, detection, and treatment of late effects, like new cancers and heart and lung disease, have played an important role in extending their lifespan as well,” Armstrong said.
Promising advances in research could also mean longer, healthier lives for women with breast cancer, the number one cancer in women worldwide, experts said.
A new targeted therapy that appears to double the amount of time cancer can be held in check, a drug that offers more women a chance at healthy lives post-diagnosis and a surgical option to remove extra tissue in order to reduce the likelihood of cancer’s return were among the findings presented in Chicago.
The targeted drug, palbociclib, is made by Pfizer and was granted accelerated approval by the US Food and Drug Administration earlier this year for use in women with the most common form of advanced breast cancer, known as estrogen receptor positive (ER+), human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 negative (HER2-).
According to the findings of a phase III trial presented at the ASCO meeting, the drug — when used in combination with an anti-estrogen agent called Fulvestrant — was able to double the time women spent without having their cancer advance.