Today we think about cancer in terms of the tumour site—breast, lung, colon, brain, each is separate with different treatments. Precision medicine is a new way of looking at cancer. Instead of focusing on the site of the cancer, it identifies the genetic abnormalities that make cancer possible in individual patients.
Dr. Christine Williams, Vice President, Outreach at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research offers an analogy: “It used to be one big door and we tested a big group of people to see if they would fit through it. Now that big door is being replaced by thousands of smaller doors, and we have to know which people to lead through which door. We’re looking at fewer big clinical trials and many, many more small ones.”
“Canada is has a smaller population, and we don’t have enough people to go through the new doors we build. That means we’ll need to work with global partners so we can assign enough patients to each trial,” says Dr. Williams. “CCTG’s international reach and reputation for conducting the highest quality research makes it an important part of precision medicine trials going forward.”
CCTG scientists are already designing trials that look at treatments tailored to individual patients. This shift will require CCTG to make some changes. “We have to create a new infrastructure to enable us to conduct precision medicine trials,” says Dr. Janet Dancey. “We need to raise our capabilities because there will be much more data to collect and more complexity to address. It will require new people, new skills, and new technologies.”
Precision medicine is an emerging approach for cancer treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle.