Challenges for PMI industry as major cancer study boosts hopes for personalised treatments

Providers may need to fund increasing numbers of gene-specific drugs

Private medical insurance (PMI) providers and other funders of healthcare could be faced with the challenge of funding an increasing number of so-called “personalised” cancer medicines designed for individuals with a certain genetic makeup.

Scientists in the UK, US and Europe have collaborated to publish an “encyclopedia” which details how hundreds of different cancer cells respond to anti-cancer agents.

Researchers said that the “book of cancer knowledge” could speed up the development of treatments designed for individuals with certain genetic markers.

Recent years have seen high profile debate over the funding of drugs such as Herceptin, a breast cancer drug that works in patients with an overactive HER2 gene. Cancer care has become a key battleground for PMI providers as they look to differentiate their propositions from their competitors.

The encyclopedia is published today in the journal Nature and details how more than 600 cancer cell lines respond to 130 different anti-cancer drugs.

The study, the largest of its kind, was carried out by a team at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the UK and various cancer institutes around the world.

Dr Mathew Garnett of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, and first author of the report, said: “Our key focus is to find how to use cancer therapeutics in the most effective way by correctly targeting patients that are most likely to respond to a specific therapy.”

The authors of the study say they hope the open-access database will be an important resource for the cancer research community which will lead to improved treatments for patients.

Professor Daniel Haber, senior author from Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Centre, said: “Our work is helping to move cancer therapeutics away from the conventional tissue-based treatment to a more molecular-based treatment.

“The next steps for this collaborative project are to evaluate some of the key findings using tumour samples and test new candidate therapeutic strategies in clinical trials so we can hopefully improve the way we treat cancer patients.”

One of the key responses identified by the study is that cells from a childhood bone cancer, Ewing’s sarcoma, respond to a drug that is currently used to treat breast and ovarian cancers.

The team says this may prove to be a safer alternative therapy for children and young adults suffering from Ewing’s sarcoma.

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