On the Road to Precision Medicine

Izzy Okparanta

The more researchers know about how different therapies work and for whom they work, the faster they can make progress in finding treatments, said Dr. William Nelson, director of Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center during a panel discussion on March 8 about precision medicine moderated by The Washington Post’s Laurie McGinley.

The discussion was part of Johns Hopkins Medicine’s On the Road to Precision Medicine Health Care Leader Series, which explores topics of cost, communication, research, and health care delivery in relation to precision medicine.

Regarding concerns that the drug approval process is too lengthy, Nelson said that the efficiency achieved by focusing on creating targeted therapies for specific groups of people, rather than trying to create treatments that work for large swaths of the population, could help reduce approval times.

Dr. Antony Rosen, Vice Dean for Research at Johns Hopkins Medicine, said there are challenges to advancing precision medicine, pointing to a 20% decline in the National Institutes of Health budget over the past 15 years.

Dr. Glenn Dranoff, Global Head of Exploratory Immuno-Oncology at Novartis, said manipulating a patient’s immune response to target cancer – a form of precision medicine called immunotherapy – dates back a century. But only recently has the technology to apply it become available. He shared the example of melanoma immunotherapy, in which 10 years survival can be achieved through as little as four treatments.

“We really still only know a small fraction of the rules that guide how those immune cells behave,” Dranoff said. That’s why sustained and robust research funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is so important, added Margaret Anderson, executive director of FasterCures.

“We are concerned about the prospect of budget cuts at NIH because if you don’t have the NIH providing seed corn for this research, then you don’t reap the benefits,” Anderson said. “The urgency of this work as it applies to real life patients cannot be underscored enough.”

Despite these concerns, Anderson and others voiced optimism for the future of precision medicine and biomedical research as a whole.

“I think we will have the science of patient input become more and more defined,” Anderson said. “We will have biomedical research be a bipartisan issue. We saw it with the 21st Century Cures Act, to a degree with the Cancer Moonshot, and with precision medicine.”

Click here to learn more about the Johns Hopkins precision medicine event series.

Izzy Okparanta is Research!America’s Senior Communications Specialist.

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