A Writer's Perspective: the Precision Medicine Revolution
By Taylor Sells, Senior Medical Writer
One of my favorite questions to answer when first meeting someone is, “What do you do?”
The titular answer of “medical writer” doesn’t fully encapsulate what I really do and why I’m passionate about it. My career is at the interface of science, medicine, and communication. It’s not enough to understand the basic research and clinical studies that are revolutionizing patient care; the impact of these findings must be shared far and wide. In my work, I primarily focus on precision medicine in oncology and ultra-rare diseases. Over time, I’ve developed a deep commitment to these disease areas and a genuine interest in the innovations that are helping improve the lives of the people who live with them.
When I reflect on the history of cancer treatment over the past century, it’s easy to see exponential growth. The landscape of oncology is shifting faster now than ever before and shows no signs of decelerating. In just the last few years, precision medicine has led the charge toward transforming clinical care models and patient experience. Fulfilling the promise of the Information Age, targeted therapies emerged to harness the power of data to help healthcare professionals make better treatment decisions. As a result, precision medicine is transforming the oncology treatment landscape from a one-size-fits-all, tumor type-specific model toward a biomarker-driven approach tailored to the individual patient.
I admit that some of my interest in precision medicine resides in the hope that the next person I know and love who is diagnosed with cancer will have a better outcome than those before them. Cancer is why I never met my grandfather, who died from acute leukemia before I was born, and why I have no memories of my grandmother, who had aggressive lung cancer when I was an infant. Now, I regularly research oncology treatments that could have reduced their suffering and extended their lives.
Precision medicine excites me because it combines my passions: biochemistry and helping people. With molecular data, we can dramatically improve the lives of people with cancer by facilitating the confident selection of evidence-based, target-directed therapies. This boon is the product of partnership and collaboration at multiple levels of science, technology, engineering, medicine, and communication. Tireless research in labs illuminates the pathways that trigger malignancy and drive cancer growth. Foundational knowledge of these pathways enables the selection of candidate targets and development of novel agents to attack them. Increased demand for data propels technological innovations that identify and monitor relevant targets. In the second to last stage of clinical study, all of these efforts combine to evaluate the efficacy of these data-driven, targeted approaches. Finally, the data from clinical research must then be disseminated with the ultimate goal of integrating targeted therapies into daily patient care to improve the lives of people with cancer.
Pan-tumor indications are vital to the ongoing evolution of the cancer treatment landscape from one-size-fits-all, tumor-specific treatment toward precision medicine tailored to each patient.
Given the complexity of cancer, the precision medicine revolution is self-sustaining as new discoveries fuel enthusiasm to continue investigating how new and existing medicines can be used to improve patient outcomes. A 2017 report estimated that nearly 75% of oncology drugs in the development pipeline were precision medicines, and this number was expected to continue to rise. In my work at Springer Healthcare, I’m lucky enough to go behind the scenes by helping innovators bring their products into the clinic, where they can impact patient care.
The first product I helped launch targeted an ultra-rare cancer with limited treatment options and evidence. While rare cancers make up 1 in 8 new adult tumor diagnoses every year, individually many of these tumors are too rare to be studied in large-scale, randomized, controlled trials to develop evidence-based therapies. For these patients and the healthcare professionals who treat them, established treatments are lacking; data-driven targeted therapies offer them new opportunities to try evidence-based precision medicine. For a disease with so few options, the approval of a targeted therapy inspires excitement and hope for both patients and physicians. Hearing the stories of people who experienced positive outcomes with the new product was truly a transformative experience for me. In that moment, I understood that the work we do transcends the assets we develop — we help change lives.
Before I became a medical writer, I myself was a basic researcher. While I didn’t research cancer directly, the value of my work was always framed in terms of human impact. I would ask myself, “How could this discovery build a foundation for future improvements in the world in which we live?” I hope that question unites the people who collaborate across disciplines to bring new innovations into the realm of daily life. I left the bench to pursue the horizon where basic science meets the real world, and found my home in medical communications.