Cancer patients in the future could benefit from pharmacogenomics or the field of personalized medicine where therapies could be tailored to suit individual patients. Few drugs which target specific protein receptors in cancer are already in the market and the decoding of the human genome offers great promise to patients, as the therapy could become more specialized. However, all this comes with a heavy cost and cancer research experts warn that such breakthroughs may not lead to new treatment due to the cost.
Pharmaceutical companies face formidable problems in this new treatment approach as it costs about $100 million to develop a cancer drug and only about one in ten make it to the market. The developmental costs of these drugs are so high because they are targeted at specific molecules and this requires sophisticated screening tests.
The pharma companies are already pulling out of oncology drugs since the potential market is too small, as the patients treated with a particular drug are confined to a small genetically defined subgroup, and the sales from this small group would not cover the development costs. Unless scientists are able to show that these drugs work on a specific genetic type instead of on only 2 or 3 per cent of patients, these drugs may not make it to the market.
A cancer research expert, Dr. Keith Snell warned that if development costs are not reduced, the new cancer therapies have very slim chances of reaching the cancer patients. He however suggested that the solution lies in simplifying clinical trials and small biotechnology companies, major drug companies and scientific researchers agreeing to share the risks, thereby making the development process a more economic proposition.