In a new ASCO in Action podcast, ASCO President Bruce E. Johnson, MD, FASCO, joined ASCO Chief Executive Officer Dr. Clifford A. Hudis to discuss precision medicine—Dr. Johnson’s presidential theme and the focus of ASCO’s recent State of Cancer Care in America event at the National Press Club.
During the podcast, Dr. Johnson examines what precision medicine is and what’s driving the current level of interest. The National Institutes of Health’s definition of precision medicine is an “emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, the environment, and lifestyle for each person.” Dr. Johnson says that interest in precision medicine builds on the findings of the Cancer Genome Atlas, which helped define genomic changes that are unique to different cancers. Once a roadmap was developed for genomic changes in cancer, he explains, it led to an effort to start developing specific therapies targeting those changes. When physicians have that roadmap, they can then recognize things that may look similar under a microscope, but have different genomic mutations driving changes within the tumor that can be targeted with precision medicine therapies.
Simply put, Dr. Johnson says, precision medicine is providing “the right drug for the right patient at the right time.”
Dr. Johnson, the director of the Dana Farber Harvard Cancer Center’s Lung Cancer Program, stresses three goals that need to be achieved for precision medicine to be made widely available: education, information, and access. Physicians need to learn how to interpret and treat different genomic changes. Electronic health records must support the rapid and meaningful dissemination of information to providers at the point of care. Finally, genetic testing and counseling need to be covered by third-party payers, so people with cancer have access to the necessary treatments.
While there is promise in precision medicine advancements, Dr. Johnson notes that there is still work to be done. “The part that concerns me the most is being able to disseminate the information in a meaningful way to the people at the point of care who are taking care of these patients,” he says.