Recent news that the FDA will not approve the use of the drug Avastin for breast cancer has many patients who have benefitted questioning why. Kimmel Cancer Center director William Nelson believes it is a perfect example of why personalized cancer medicine—getting the right drugs to the right patients—is so important.
“Often in trials, drugs do not look impressive, but that’s because we test them on everyone,” says Nelson. “We need to start studying them in patients, based on the genetic profile of their cancers. These are the patients where they are most likely to work.”
Avastin, he says is a timely example. Does it work in breast cancer? Despite the recent FDA decision, some women are benefitting. The problem is that when the data for all breast cancer patients is analyzed, it appears to be largely ineffective. Nelson believes researchers must look at the women it has helped, decipher the mechanism, and get it to those patients where it is most likely to make a difference. “If we treat those our science shows it will benefit—and only them—the data immediately look better; we improve patient outcomes, and save money. This is what personalized medicine is all about.”