Dr James Lin Chen on the Shift to Precision Medicine

What has really changed in the shift to precision medicine is that it adds a layer of data to each step we go through with the patient, explained James Lin Chen, MD, Ohio State University, and chair of ASCO CancerLinQ Oncology Informatics Task Force. 

How has the shift to precision medicine changed the way oncologists think about cancer treatment?
We still need to see the patient, diagnose the patient, figure out what’s targetable, and find treatments for the patients. So, that part is still the same and that will probably not change. What has really changed is that precision medicine adds a layer of data to each of those steps, and each of those steps now require a lot more data synthesis. So, in effect, what we have is a data problem. Less about a clinical problem, but how do you manage all this data to help treat your patient?

What is the difference between personalized medicine and precision medicine?
There is a shift from personalized medicine to precision medicine, because if you really think about it, we’re really trying to customize medications for a group of patients with a similar feature. For example, if we think about BRCA1 or BRCA2 alterations, we think about PARP inhibitors. We’re not talking about a particular patient’s cancer with that alteration, we’re talking about a group of patients who all have that particular gene loss or gene alteration.

I like to think of this as: if you were to try to start a clothing store, for example, if you tried to customize clothing for every single person who came into the store, that’s not really feasible or possible with what we have today. Instead, what we’re trying to do is find what are the most common alterations, what are the most targetable ones, and create treatments or therapies that really do fit these groups of people.

So, when we talk about precision medicine, we’re moving to trying to treat similar groups of patients.
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