For drugmakers developing cancer meds, the future may be here - new genetic research on display at the ASCO meeting may help identify drugs most likely to work in particular people, but also sharply reduce the market for certain meds,The Wall Street Journal notes.
This marks an important shift in cancer treatment and in attitudes of drugmakers and biotechs toward personalized medicine. Companies are beginning to accept a smaller market for some meds in return for a better chance that those who use them will have a good result, the paper writes.
The focus of attention at ASCO is a gene called K-ras, which regulates cell growth and plays a crucial role in several cancers. A study indicated about 36 percent of patients with advanced colon cancer have a mutated form of the gene that assures they won't to respond to ImClone's Erbitux, suggesting docs should focus on the 64 percent who have a normal version of the gene, the paper writes.
"It will reduce the size of the market," John Johnson, ImClone's ceo, tells the Journal. "But we want the physician and patient to know who is likely to (get) the best benefit." And Charles Baum, vp and head of oncology development at Pfizer, tells the paper: "Ultimately this is for the good of the patient and a better outcome. It will be a better approach, and I think everyone is going to be adopting it."
The remarks reflect the frustrating debate over the limited number of patients who receive meaningful survival benefits from expensive meds that are given to patients without knowing who has the correct type of genes, the paper continues. Of course, there's another side to the equation - biomarkers could help lower development costs and appease insurers who want to rein in expensive meds that help only a fraction of patients.
AstraZeneca is also using biomarkers in drug development. The drugmaker reported the amount of a tumor growth factor, called VEGF, circulating in the blood can predict which lung cancer patients will best respond to its experimental drug Zactima, and test it only on patients who might benefit. Alan Barge, who heads oncology development, tells BusinessWeek he would rather capture 80 percent of patients who will actually respond than 20 percent of a larger group whose cancer may not improve.