October 30, 2018
What is precision medicine?
Think about the last time you streamed a movie or bought a book online. You probably saw a series of recommendations based on your prior purchases, suggestions that likely took into account your age, gender and location.
The same concepts are driving the evolution of precision medicine. By tailoring your care to your genetic makeup, environment and behavior, doctors can make informed predictions about health problems you are likely to encounter-- and recommend the most effective treatments.
How does precision medicine play a role in treating diseases and other conditions?
Doctors already adjust dosages for medications based on a patient’s gender, age and size. Precision medicine enables physicians to further customize treatments based on a patient’s genetic traits, the micro-organisms within their bodies, their environments and lifestyles. Precision medicine is already used to treat cancer and multiple sclerosis – complex conditions affected by genes, lifestyle and environment – through new treatments known as “targeted therapies.”
Has precision medicine proved successful?
The field of precision medicine is still emerging, yet there have already been measureable achievements. Previously incurable conditions such as a form of inherited blindness can now be treated with a one-time gene therapy to stop permanent blindness. And for the treatment of some types of lymphoma and leukemia, chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) therapy can reprogram a patient’s own immune cells that usually fight infections to fight cancer cells instead. Many additional precision medicine therapies are on the horizon and expected to become available over the next two to three years.
Precision medicine also is paving the way for the use of targeted therapies in the treatment of breast cancer – the second most common cancer among women in the U.S, and the second leading cause of cancer deaths, with an estimated 40,920 women expected to die from the disease in 2018 alone. Between 5 and 10 percent of breast cancers are linked to genetics, specifically in the mutation of breast cancer susceptibility – or BRCA – genes. By using targeted therapies, FDA-approved medications are able to block – or “target” – particular traits of a cancer cell that cause the cancer to grow or spread. Unlike some traditional cancer treatments, targeted therapies attack and stop or slow the growth of diseased cells without harming surrounding, healthy cells.
How are we advancing precision medicine?
Earlier this year, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched the All of Us Research Program, a massive, first-of-its-kind initiative to advance precision medicine. Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) is partnering with the All of Us Research Program to help advance the project. BCBSA has also partnered with the Athena Breast Network, which will engage up to 100,000 women and their doctors across the country, in the WISDOM (Women Informed to Screen Depending on Measures of Risk) Study to help determine whether U.S. women would benefit from a personalized approach to breast cancer screening. The goal is to assess whether a tailored approach to breast cancer screening significantly reduces harm and improves benefits.