Personalized cancer treatment on the rise, cutting drug spend

If research presented at this year's annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology is any indication, the time could arrive sooner than expected for "personalized medicine," in which treatments are geared toward individuals based on their genetic makeup. Specifically, it's looking like doctors may have more of an ability to target cancer treatments to specific patients.

At the meeting, much of the attention was focused on a gene called K-ras, which researchers say plays an important role in the development of varied cancers. One study noted that about 36 percent of patients with advanced colon cancer have a mutated K-ras gene, more or less guaranteeing that they won't respond to frequently used cancer drug Erbitux. Researchers note that given these circumstances, it's much better to limit use of the drug to those 64 percent who have a normal version of K-ras, which theoretically limits the size of the market for drugmaker ImClone Systems.

In the future, other drugmakers are likely to take this approach directly. For example, Astra Zeneca is using K-ras data to avoid giving its drug Iressa to those who won't respond and develop treatments for patients with the mutated form of the gene. In another case, Genentech has successfully targeted breast-cancer drug Herceptin to the right patients by finding a biomarker identifying patients it can help.

To learn more about this trend:
- read this Wall Street Journal piece (sub. req.)

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