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Breast Cancer
Medical Care

An Update on Precision Medicine

Everyone knows that different people don’t respond the same way to medications, and that “one size does not fit all.” FDA has been pushing for targeted drug therapies, sometimes called “personalized medicines” or “precision medicines,” for a long time.

Targeted therapies make use of blood tests, images of the body, or other technologies to measure individual factors called “biomarkers.” These biomarkers can then be used to determine who is most likely to benefit from a treatment, who is at higher risk of a side effect, or who needs a different dose. Targeting therapy can improve drug safety, and make sure that only people likely to have a good response get put on a drug.

Targeted therapies have gained public attention since President Obama announced a Precision Medicine Initiative in his most recent State of the Union address. This initiative will reinforce our work at FDA, where development of targeted drug therapies has been a priority since the 1990s. In 1998, FDA approved the targeted therapy, Herceptin (trastuzumab), offering new hope for many patients with breast cancer. High levels of a biomarker, known as “HER-2,” identified breast tumors that were more likely to be susceptible to this drug.

Since the approval of Herceptin, the development of targeted therapies has grown rapidly. FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) approved 30 targeted therapies since 2012, including Kalydeco (ivacaftor), a targeted drug for cystic fibrosis. In 2014 alone, eight of the 41 novel drugs approved were targeted, including:

Lynparza (olaparib) for the treatment of advanced ovarian cancer.

Blincyto (blinatumomab) for the treatment of B-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).

Harvoni (ledipasvir and sofosbuvir) to treat patients with chronic hepatitis C infection.

Viekira Pak (ombitasvir, paritaprevir, dasabuvir and ritonavir) for the treatment of chronic hepatitis C infection.

Cardelga (eliglustat) for the long-term treatment of Gaucher disease type 1.

Beleodaq (belinostat) for the treatment of peripheral T-cell lymphoma.

Zykadia (ceritinib) to treat patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

Vimizim (elosulfase alpha) for the treatment of Mucopolysaccharidosis Type IV (Morquio Syndrome).

Since the 1990s, FDA has also been working on personalized drug dosing. People differ in how they eliminate a drug—some eliminate it much more slowly than most other people and are susceptible to overdosing, and others eliminate it much faster, and may not get any effect. There are biomarkers to identify people who have these unusual results, and CDER has been actively working for more than 15 years to put these findings into drug labels, so that each patient gets the correct dose, particularly for highly toxic or critically important drugs.

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