Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Take home thoughts from San Antonio

It takes a while to digest all the information from such a huge conference but one theme which was common to many of the presentations was the move towards customising the treatment to the patient’s particular tumour. (We tend to think of breast cancer as one disease – it isn’t – it is a group of diseases which appear in one part of the body).

Of course this is good news for patients but we will need extensive and accurate diagnostic tests with definitive biomarkers1 so that the most effective treatment can be planned for each patient. In addition we will reduce the number of treatments patients have to undergo because we will know which will work and which won’t.

Treatments will be devised for smaller sub-groups of patients – the challenge is how we find sufficient patients to do research. The average breast unit might only see a few of each in a year? Initiatives such as the Breast International Group (BIG) based in Brussels are working to bring together sufficient numbers of patients into clinical trials worldwide and they have been successful in recruiting over 70,000 patients including many thousands in the UK.

However, even before research gets to that stage there is a considerable amount of work that needs to be done in the laboratory and there the challenge is to accumulate sufficient breast cancer tissue from these subgroups to enable this. Access to good quality tissue was identified by Breast Cancer Campaign’s gap analysis which was published last year and will be addressed by Breast Cancer Campaign’s Tissue Bank which will be launched next year.

It is always exciting to see one of our scientists presenting in front of the 8,000 strong crowd at San Antonio (and seeing our jigsaw logo in its full glory on nine giant screens). This year was no exception when Dr Charlotte Coles presented her interim results on an important radiotherapy trial which we supported in Cambridge. Although early work, these results are very promising and we look forward to seeing the outcomes in the future as they track the patients who took part.

A final thought – at some point at every conference a scientist starts to talk about patients failing the treatment. Patients don’t fail treatments – treatments fail patients and targeted treatments will help to stop this.

1A biological molecule found in blood, other body fluids, or tissues that is a sign of a normal or abnormal process, or of a condition or disease. A biomarker may be used to see how well the body responds to a treatment for a disease or condition.

No comments:

Post a Comment