A New Way to Fight Cancer? It May Be in Our DNA. Precision Medicine Program Launched at Comprehensive Cancer Center

February 10, 2015

After a year in development, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center today announced a new Precision Medicine program at its National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center.  Precision medicine was introduced to the nation during President Obama’s State of the Union address in January. He called the novel therapy “a bold new effort to revolutionize how we improve health and treat disease.”

Precision medicine uses a person’s unique genetic makeup to develop an individualized treatment plan that targets cancer cells. Oncologists look at the cancer-associated genes in a person’s tumor, called genomic sequencing, to pinpoint the person’s genetic drivers that fuel cancer growth. Then a unique treatment plan is designed around the genetic abnormalities and mutations in the person’s tumor.   

“This is an exciting time for us,” said Boris Pasche, M.D., director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center. “We have developed one of the most comprehensive, coordinated efforts around precision medicine.  Some of our adult and pediatric patients could greatly benefit from unique therapies in cases that are not responding to standard treatments.

“As the only Comprehensive Cancer Center in western North Carolina, we have access to therapies that other facilities do not. Genomic sequencing also means our patients can be better matched to existing and new clinical trials.”

Precision medicine treatments are ideal for patients with either end-stage cancer, an active cancer that has failed standard treatment, or cancer that is likely to progress despite standard therapies.  

The most common cancers for which genomic sequencing is available are: metastatic breast cancer, metastatic colon cancer, lung cancer not successfully removed by surgery, esophageal cancer, abdominal cancers (pancreatic, appendiceal and stomach), advanced prostate cancer, metastatic melanoma, and leukemia.

Precision medicine is not for every cancer patient. Although the goal is to match each patient with the most effective treatment, some patients may have cancer with a genetic makeup for which there is no current appropriate precision medicine therapy.

While precision medicine may be an effective alternative to standard chemotherapy, it is not necessarily a stand-alone cure. The goal, Pasche says, is to select the most appropriate therapy for each patient’s cancer so they have the potential of improved health or a longer life.

Precision medicine treatments are covered by some insurance companies and government payers on a case-by-case basis. Nationally, more third-party payers are seeing the value of this treatment option for patients with end-stage cancer because it often offers a therapy that may cost less than re-hospitalization.

For more information about the Precision Medicine program at Wake Forest Baptist, go to http://www.wakehealth.edu/Genomics/.

Media Relations

Mac Ingraham: mingraha@wakehealth.edu, 336-716-3487

Shannon Putnam: news@wakehealth.edu, 336-713-4587