“Sea change” coming for cancer treatments

With the human genome project over, and new details of cancer oncogenes and tumor suppressors coming daily, where are the new treatments for cancer? A new article discusses how the FDA is working with researchers to expedite or ‘fast track’ certain kinds of therapeutic drugs to locate individualized breakthroughs faster and sooner.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/02/25/us-cancer-drugs-idUSBRE91O07K20130225

This is the promise of gene sequencing finally coming to fruition. While real complexity still exists, the promise of customized cancer treatments is becoming a reality. Tumors are being sequenced in the hundreds if not thousands, and their differences and similarities charted, picked apart and compared.

For example, in September of 2012, a group of researchers called the Cancer Genome Atlas Network further dissected the types and subtypes of breast cancer. Using genomic analysis, four distinct sub-types exist with vastly different genetic profiles in terms of what proteins will turn their internal switches ‘off’ or ‘on’.

These types of discoveries will help us finally unravel the complexities of cancer. Once a sequence is known, along with its epigentics, protogenomics and metabiolomics together new powerful therapies can be readily created.

Yet, even as these new technologies flourish, the Supreme Court stands ready to exclude them from patent protection as “unpatentable abstract ideas.” The ACLU has successfully petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the issue of “whether human genes can be patented” in the case of Association of Advanced Pathology vs. Myriad. Unfortunately, this is not an issue that needs to be decided. The work that has been performed by doctors, researchers, laboratories and companies on each and every diagnostic tool and therapy is not a “human gene” and has taken thousands of person-hours to develop. A patent also is not forever, and without some expectation of recouping research costs, who will bother with small subsets of cancers when huge drug conglomerates will swoop in and steal their work as soon as it is published?

As first world countries agonize over how to eliminate carcinogens from our world, the medical world may beat us to the punch with cures for many if not most cancers. It is an idealist’s wish, but science has created hope for some of that idealism to come true. Let’s hope that the work, creativity and unique nature of these discoveries is given the credit and protection it is due.

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