The idea of personalized medicine is starting to take hold with an increasing number of genetic tests and genomic data being used by more and more physicians to treat patients on a case-by-case basis. Now, says Technology Review's Susan Young, a new company called H3 Biomedicines is looking to tailor cancer drugs for small groups of patients so their treatments are personalized from the outset — and it's using data from sources like The Cancer Genome Atlas and the International Cancer Genome Consortium to do it. "When the company analyzed the first 3,000 cancer genomes in the TCGA Web portal, it looked for cancer mutations that were shared by at least 1 percent of different cancer types," Young says. CEO Markus Warmuth tells her that looking through the data has shown him that "there's not some big novel cancer gene that no one had known before, one that induces 50 percent of breast cancer and 65 percent of lung cancer. That's not what the data tells us."
H3 plans to develop drugs that only a small percentage of patients may benefit from. However, the company's data search has also shown it that different kinds of cancers can share mutations and molecular abnormalities, so these kinds of targeted drugs could end up treating larger numbers of patients — by their mutations, not by their cancer type.
Finding the right patients to test these drugs is H3's biggest problem right now, Young adds. But genomic technology could be useful there, too. "Warmuth thinks that the dropping cost of DNA sequencing will provide an opportunity to solve the patient problem," she says. "Rather than enrolling patients in a clinical trial and then determining whether they carry the particular mutation targeted by a candidate drug, patients could have their tumor's genome sequenced and then share the information in a database available to pharmaceutical companies."