Precision Medicine Has Broadened the Application of Gene Therapy Testing, Further Specialization May Be Needed to Interpret Results

The field of oncology has seen transformative shifts over the past decade, thanks to advances in precision medicine. Dr. John Marshall, Clinical Director of Oncology for Georgetown University, elaborated on this dramatic transition at the 2023 NCODA Oncology Institute.

A decade back, immunotherapies were relegated to obscurity, being stationed at distant corners of oncology conferences. In contrast, nowadays, their research occupies center stage, necessitating vast spaces to accommodate the enthusiasm and advancements in the field.

In the previous era, gene therapy testing was a rarity, restricted to a few specific markers like the estrogen and progesterone receptors for breast cancer. Presently, nearly every patient with even the least progressed disease necessitates some gene therapy testing.

Interestingly, the cost of cancer treatment was once considered at its zenith a decade ago. Fast forward to the current times, and the prices have soared even higher. Alongside these changes, the wellbeing of oncologists has suffered; from being amongst the happiest medical practitioners, they now experience the highest suicide rates of all medical specialties.

The intricacies and rapid advancements in the field have made it challenging for oncology professionals. Previously, the range of treatment options was limited, allowing specialists to hold almost all information in their minds. Now, they frequently resort to online databases to keep up-to-date with the burgeoning knowledge.

Jerry Mitchell, MD, MBA, emphasized that the breadth and depth of knowledge required today are so vast that no single provider can handle it. Precision medicine necessitates a collaborative approach, integrating insights and skills from multiple specialists.

This collaboration extends to interpreting gene test results. Previously, a doctor could independently interpret tests like CAT scans, but now, the rapid evolution in the field and the lack of standardized systems make gene test results far more challenging to decipher.

To compound these challenges, tests can vary from one lab to another. Even naming conventions for specific genetic markers aren’t consistent across platforms, leading to confusion. Jonas Congelli, RPh, highlighted the need for more specialized training to help professionals comprehend these tests, emphasizing that sometimes, even with advancements, the results don’t always promise groundbreaking solutions for patients.

Mitchell rounded off the discussion by stressing the importance of systematically reviewing the implementation of precision medicine. The ultimate goal remains to harness genetic information to provide effective therapies for patients.

In essence, the past decade has seen monumental shifts in oncology, with precision medicine at the forefront. While the advancements promise better treatments, they also bring complexities that necessitate a more collaborative and systematic approach.