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Combination Therapy: New Hope for Cancer Cures

When people think about “curing” cancer, many imagine a technological innovation and blockbuster drugs or treatments. Perhaps… or perhaps the breakthrough combination therapy already exists.

Presently, 193 approved cancer drugs are on the market.1 Few, however, have been tested in combination. In fact, only 38 combinations have been approved. If oncologists were to unleash against cancer every possible combination of drugs that already have been approved, then as shown below 57 million unique cancer treatments already exist. Indeed because of recent success with combination therapy, the research focus is beginning to shift away from the tissues to the genes implicated in each case of cancer.

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Studies now demonstrate that rarely is cancer triggered by a single genetic mutation, but by multiple genes mutations and interactions2. If cancer cases could be classified by the combination of genes mutating, then each case could be treated by a cocktail of drugs targeting the genes implicated.

Given millions of potential gene combinations, traditional clinical trials are not practicable. Instead, molecular diagnostics will begin to play a critically important role. Next generation sequencing cancer diagnostics, such as those now offered by Foundation Medicine FMI and soon Illumina ILMN and Cepheid CPHD, will direct oncologists to personalized combination therapies for their patients.

The war on cancer has become a multi-front battle involving oncologists, scientists, and patients. Discredited in the aftermath of the biotech bubble and bust 15 years ago, personalized medicine now is taking on new and important dimensions. Targeting multiple genes with multiple drugs, those fighting cancer can look to customized therapies for new hope.

  1. As listed by the National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/druginfo/drug-page-index
  2. This is called epistasis


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