Three reasons why companion diagnostics are important
November 17th, 2017
The ultimate aim of precision medicine is to treat a patient with a drug that perfectly fits their disease and genetic make-up. It is intended to target the disease or tumor, acting on that part of the body alone and causing minimal side effects. It’s a wonderful concept and we are beginning to see this become a reality with important advances in immuno-oncology, gene therapy and other incredible, life-changing treatments. What tends to be left out of this picture, however, is that before the drug or therapy is prescribed, the patient has to be tested to determine a number of things. This is why diagnostics play such an important role in the patient journey. Let’s look at three reasons why they matter so much:
Diagnostics can reveal if a patient has a certain biomarker which will make him or her predisposed to a certain disease. A good example of this is testing for the BRCA mutation gene that indicates a woman is at a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Angelina Jolie brought this to public attention when, after testing, she announced she was carrying the gene and elected to have a mastectomy to reduce her chances of getting the disease.
Companion diagnostics can determine which specific therapy is more likely to work for them and, significantly, which ones will not work or cause serious side effects. Previously, a patient would be prescribed a drug for, perhaps, breast cancer but that treatment was a ‘one-size-fits-all’ therapy that might only be strong and effective for 25 per cent of patients. There could also have been some significant side effects with very little benefit realized. Not only is this ineffective for the patient, leading to delays in the right treatment, but it leads to huge waste and is not cost-effective for hospitals or payers. The advent of companion diagnostics means that patients can find out which therapies will not work for them, which is just as important as finding the one that will work.
When used as early as possible in a patient’s illness, effective testing can help physicians reach a much earlier diagnosis to set the patient on the right path to faster treatment. This means they are more likely to increase their chances of recovery and, in a condition such as rheumatoid arthritis, reduces the impact of the disease and irreversible wear and damage to the joints.
Diagnostics are already part of everyday life. Fertility and pregnancy tests, blood glucose meters for diabetes, blood pressure monitors and over the counter cholesterol and colorectal cancer tests are all types of diagnostics. In precision medicine, however, companion diagnostics are mainly associated with deciding on appropriate treatment with existing therapies or ones in the pipeline. In fact, companion diagnostics are now regularly developed alongside new cancer drugs so they can be launched at the same time. Additionally, there is plenty of research and development underway in general medicine to make companion diagnostics available for drugs tackling Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases, to name just a few. So the use of companion diagnostics is destined to increase and benefit many more of us in the future.
The importance of companion diagnostics can’t be underestimated and it is why Diaceutics helps pharma companies around the world integrate testing into the development, launch and commercialization of their therapies. Making sure no patient ever misses out on the right treatment is the aim of everyone working in this exciting field of companion diagnostics and precision medicine.