Much progress has been made in the last 50 years of cancer treatment. While the medical establishment is still a long way from a cure, one of the most productive areas of cancer treatment innovation has been in the area of what are known as targeted therapies. These drugs are able to specifically target malignant cells, using fiendishly clever bio-engineering technology, and, thus, avoid the release of toxins into the patient’s bloodstream. This class of drugs has dramatically increased the effectiveness of treatment for some types of cancers, such as non-Hodgekin’s lymphoma, and promises to all but eliminate the horrible side effects of chemotherapies used in many other types of cancer.
But now, there is another revolution in cancer treatment brewing. The marriage of Big Data with molecular biology promises to dramatically increase the effectiveness of many types of cancer treatment. This is the custom treatment revolution. Just like the targeted therapy revolution tailors drugs to attack a very narrow, specific type of cell, the custom treatment revolution promises to target a very narrow, specific type of patient. The idea is to reduce the huge amounts of collateral damage that inevitably follow from administering highly toxic treatments to large groups of undifferentiated patients.
One man, Eric Lefkofsky, is at the forefront of this new frontier in cancer research. In 2016, the serial entrepreneur founded Tempus, a company dedicated to the real-time analysis of large amounts of data for oncologists to use in custom tailoring patient treatments. Part of Tempus’ treatment model relies on the vast stores of data provided by the cheap sequencing of human genomes. This, combined with electronic medical records, study data, and other sources of medical data, will be combined with a sophisticated analytic engine, allowing for oncologists to create patient-specific treatments in real time. Eric Lefksofsky predicts that, within ten years, practically no two patients with the same cancer diagnosis will receive the same treatment. Compare that with today, where practically all patients with the same diagnosis get the same drugs in the same regimen.
This new, infinite granularity in how oncologists understand patient and treatment profiles may lead the way to a virtual cure.