There is considerable overlap between “personalized medicine” and “precision medicine,” and the two terms often are used interchangeably.
Personalized medicine, a phrase coined in the 1990s, describes a medical model through which health care delivery is tailored to individual patients based on their characteristics, including genetic make-up, disease biomarkers, treatment history and environmental factors.
The goal is to separate individuals into subgroups based on how susceptible they are to a specific disease or how they may respond to a particular therapy.
This allows clinicians to recommend treatments with the greatest probability of effectiveness, while minimizing patients’ exposure to potentially toxic therapies from which they are less likely to benefit.
In a 2011 report, a committee of the National Research Council — the working arm of the United States National Academies, which shapes policies and advances the pursuit of medicine, science and engineering — suggested the term “precision medicine” be used instead of “personalized medicine.”
“[Personalized medicine] is sometimes misinterpreted as implying that unique treatments can be designed for each individual,” the report’s authors wrote. “For this reason, the committee thinks that the term ‘precision medicine’ is preferable.”
Molecular profiling and the use of therapies that target a specific disease’s genetic traits are the two pillars of this approach.
In oncology, precision medicine approaches have shown tremendous promise in breast cancer, lung cancer and certain leukemia subtypes. These efforts have furthered the recognition that each type of malignancy often is comprised of several distinct subtypes that develop, progress and respond to treatment in different ways.
Ongoing clinical trials are focusing on the development of new therapies that can target genetic mutations within specific diseases, the development of diagnostic tools to detect those mutations and the identification of biomarkers to help predict which patients will respond to specific treatments.
In his State of the Union address earlier this year, President Barack Obama established precision medicine as a national priority. He unveiled the Precision Medicine Initiative — created with an initial $215 million investment — to help researchers determine which treatments are most likely to target certain characteristics of each patient’s disease.
Obama proposed $70 million in additional funding specifically for precision oncology research. The NCI plans to use this extra funding to achieve three research goals:
• Leverage the new NCI-MATCH trial and undertake additional clinical trials related to precision medicine;
• Apply principles of precision medicine to assess drug resistance to cancer treatments; and
• Develop a cancer knowledge network that will allow for better accessibility of data for researchers, health care workers and patients.
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