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Focused Drugs

Oftentimes when people go to the doctor to seek treatment for what ails them, there are a number of drug treatment options that can be tried. Brooke Masters at the Financial Times Magazine recalls that when she sought treatment for depression and tried multiple drugs before one works, it felt like her doctor was "essentially playing chemistry set with my brain."

One of the hopes for personalized medicine, she adds, is to avoid that trial-and-error phase and skip right to drugs that are more likely to work based on the patient's genetic makeup. This means changes for both physicians and drug companies, Masters notes.

She writes that Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb both developed a checkpoint inhibitor aimed at tumors producing high levels of PD-L1. Merck limited their testing field to tumors with 50 percent or more PD-L1, while Bristol-Myers Squibb opted for a broader 5 percent or more PD-L1 standard. That, Masters says, was a risk for Merck but one that worked out: its drug performed better than Bristol-Myers Squibb's.

"Pharma groups will instead have to offer a much wider array of narrowly tailored medications, and doctors, from oncologists to psychiatrists treating depression, will be able to care for patients far more efficiently," Masters writes. "The treatments are likely to cost more — certainly many of the first-generation precision drugs do — but the benefits would be life-changing."