37.2 trillion cells, 3.2 billion base pairs of DNA, 19,000 genes encoding proteins, 2,000 active proteins functioning within a cell, 10 million chemical reactions per second in every cell across 70 organs1; is it any wonder that not all patients respond in the same way to cancer treatments?
Currently, between 20% and 75% of patients respond to a specific cancer therapy, depending on the type of cancer and indication. If you or someone you care for falls outside of these numbers it can be agonizing. While in common parlance we hope and aspire to find the big “breakthrough” cancer drug, incremental advances for rarer or difficult-to-treat cancers also make a huge difference to patients who do not respond to current treatments.
Steady incremental advances in research and development are vital to positively impact the way cancer is treated. In 1975, fewer than half of people diagnosed with cancer survived five years. Today, two out of three people diagnosed with cancer survive at least five years.
The number of new cancer cases is expected to rise by 70% over the next two decades and the ability to identify why certain patients respond or do not respond to treatments is of paramount importance. Bayer’s cancer research focuses on finding the right treatment for the right patient and their specific cancer type.
Focusing not solely on survival, but quality of life
Let us take a look at prostate cancer, the second most common cancer in men. In recent years, the disease has become manageable for many men due to early screening and a wider range of treatment options available. Unfortunately, for those where the cancer spreads to their bones, the outlook is less promising; their five year survival rates drop dramatically from 56% to just 3% and fewer than half will survive one year2.
So, as you can see, cancers of course vary in their severity and patients are all unique. At Bayer, we don’t only measure the efficacy and value of our drugs on whether or not patients survive, but also on the quality of their lives during and after treatment. We want these fathers, brothers and sons to live active and productive lives both during and post cancer therapy. We understand that patients have different treatment goals and require specific and tailored treatment plans. We are determined to find more ways to treat patients using the best available treatment for their specific cancer.
3 ways patients could benefit from precision medicine
Wouldn’t it be great if we could continue to find new ways of treating cancer, so that patients do not necessarily need to undergo life-changing and invasive treatments? Our understanding of cancer has thrived in recent years – in the past 5 years 70 new oncology therapies have launched3. At Bayer, our focus is on the future of targeted cancer treatments that can make a true difference of patient’s lives.
For that, we’re looking into different treatment modalities that target the cancer – which is not 1, but more than 100 diseases - from different angles. Precision treatments could bring added benefits to the patient, improving their treatment outcome and their quality of life:
Fewer side effects
The treatment methods that often come to mind when talking about cancer are surgery, chemotherapy or radiation. These methods can often lead to healthy cells being killed off along with the cancerous cells. In contrast, targeted therapies tend to have fewer side effects in many cases as the respective treatment targets a specific cancer cell with a certain characteristic and leaves the healthy cell with different characteristics largely intact. Fewer side effects for patients means more quality time spent with family and friends and can make a huge difference to an already tough situation.
Targeting the cause of the disease
Understanding genetics can help treat certain difficult to treat cancers that are caused by a genetic alteration. For those specific types of cancers, often limited treatment options exist. One type of genetically-driven cancer is called tropomyosin receptor kinase (TRK) fusion cancer. The cancer occurs when a neurotrophic tyrosine receptor kinase (NTRK) gene fuses with another unrelated gene which causes a cancerous tumor to grow.
TRK fusion cancer is defined by this specific gene alteration and the cancer is not related to a certain type of tissue or the age of the patient; it can occur anywhere in the body, in both children and in adults. Currently, there is no standard of care and patients who are affected can face life-altering treatments such as amputation or chemotherapy.
Specific tests can detect NTRK gene fusions, the underlying cause of TRK fusion cancer. By testing patients and finding out what is driving their cancer, doctors could target the underlying cause of the disease. Highly targeted approaches could mean that more patients would be able to receive effective treatments for their type of cancer.
Together with our partner Loxo Oncology, we are developing an innovative treatment for patients suffering from TRK fusion cancer. The treatment will be geared towards this type of genetically-driven cancer and, if approved, would signal a paradigm shift in the way a certain cancer is treated – targeting the tumor and how it works, rather than the site of the tumor in the patient’s body (the standard way to treat many cancers today).
Studies from this new approach have shown remarkable efficacy so we hope that we can soon bring new options for both children and adults suffering from this difficult-to-treat cancer.
Furthering our understanding of cancer and its biology is critical to finding new ways to treat patients suffering from the most common of cancers to rarest forms of the disease. There are hundreds of types of cancer, but each patient is unique – we won’t rest in our search to give patients the best available treatment for their individual needs.