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Precision Medicine and Targeted Therapies: Unlocking New Treatment Options

Contributor Nicole Lagace

Cancer is one of the most pervasive and difficult to treat diseases worldwide. With the vast amount of variation between tumours, generic therapies are not always effective, and can have many toxic side effects. However, people with cancer are constantly offered new hope with the continuous development of new therapies. Currently in Canada, mortality is going down, survival rates are increasing, and we are constantly getting better at detecting and treating cancer. One of the biggest stepping stones for improving our cancer treatment was the development of precision medicine, which is the ability for drug treatments to be administered based on a person’s genetics, environment, and lifestyle. Through advancements in genetic sequencing, transcriptomics, proteomics, and metabolomics, we have developed personalized drug treatments that treat tumours based on the composition of the growth. We can sequence cancerous tumours and detect abnormal surface proteins, which have allowed for the development of targeted antibody therapies. Further, new nanoparticle-based targeted therapies are being developed to deliver drugs to a specific target site, such as a tumour, meaning the chemotherapeutic agent’s toxic effects are less likely to spread to the rest of the body. These new therapies all offer hope to people who are diagnosed with cancer and increase their chance of surviving. Evidently, personalized medicine has promising outcomes for the treatment of cancer in the years to come.

The use of targeted therapies hasn’t only been used to treat cancer. Our growing capacity for genomic, transcriptomic, proteomic, and metabolomic testing allows for the development of new technologies that make it much easier to develop and use personalized medicine. Simply put, testing is becoming increasingly accessible, fast, and precise, and this allows for the advancement of precision medicine in treating many different areas of disease. Not only does it make treating cancer easier, but it allows for patients to be administered other drug therapies best suited to them, based on their genetics. For example, lithium-based compounds used to treat bipolar disorder are not effective in all individuals. Recent genetic sequencing has shown genetic differences between people who respond to lithium-based drugs and those who do not. This knowledge allows us to better administer drugs that will treat the symptoms of disease in these individuals. New information surrounding the impact of genetics on drug efficacy continues to be discovered, and has promising outlooks for the personalization of drug therapies.

Targeted therapies can also be used in the generation of targeted drug delivery systems. These are very important for delivering drugs to certain areas of the body, but not others. For example, the development of nanoparticle therapies allows for greater specificity in the treatment of disease. Therapeutic agents can be embedded inside these particles, seen most often in lipid-based nanoparticles like liposomes. They can also be attached to the surface of a polymeric nanoparticle bead; this has a wide range of uses, from screening and diagnostics to the treatment of cancer. Nanoparticle technologies allow chemotherapeutic drugs to be delivered to the site of the tumour without reaching and harming the rest of the body. This is extremely beneficial, as a higher dose of the drug can be administered to the tumour site without impacting the rest of the body. It is a great improvement in the field of cancer chemotherapy. Nanoparticle drug delivery systems are also being developed to bypass the blood-brain barrier and deliver bioactive agents to the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS has historically been known as a hard-to-reach area, so advancements in nanoparticle drug delivery open up the opportunity to treat central nervous system diseases like never before.

As we continue to refine our technologies, we improve our ability to treat diseases in a person-specific manner. We are getting better at targeting drugs to specific locations, bringing drugs to hard-to-reach areas, and catering these treatments to a person’s genetic makeup, thus improving therapeutic results. The future development of new precision medicine technologies can unlock a variety of treatment options that were not previously possible, and can help improve the lives of people with formerly untreatable diseases.

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