Policy and Advocacy
Personalized Medicine Awareness Month: Cracking the Cancer Code
Authors: Alex Filicevas and Lydia Makaroff
The European Cancer Patient Coalition (ECPC) is very excited to be leading the first Personalized Medicine Awareness Month. Throughout November, the ECPC is promoting the importance of access to cancer molecular testing during a month-long advocacy campaign, Personalized Medicine Awareness Month: Cracking the Cancer Code. This campaign has been designed in collaboration with the European Alliance for Personalized Medicine, the Cancer Drug Development Forum, and the International Quality Network for Pathology.
Each year, over 3 million individuals are diagnosed with cancer in Europe . Cancer survival has doubled over the past 40 years, and due to an aging population an increasing number of older people are being diagnosed with cancer . We need better ways to identify people who may benefit from more effective targeted cancer treatment, and avoid treatment-related toxicity where possible, all whilst helping to ensure the sustainability of our healthcare systems.
Traditionally, cancer treatment has focused on the location of the cancer in the body. Depending on the type of cancer, people are treated with specific treatments such as chemotherapy, immuno-oncology therapy, surgery or radiotherapy. Unfortunately, not every patient with cancer responds to these treatments in the same way: what works for one person may not work for another and some may suffer serious side effects from often ineffective treatment.
Now, thanks to breakthrough technological advances, it is becoming possible to treat individuals with cancer based on 'who' they are, not 'where' their cancer is located. Improved treatment and quality of care means fewer side-effects and distress, as well as faster access for people with cancer to new and more effective treatment options – all of which improve the quality of life for people with cancer.
One of the biggest advances in cancer treatment includes biomarkers and other types of molecular testing. For example, genetic profiling can help to select or predict those individuals with colorectal cancer who are likely to derive therapeutic benefit from specific treatments . Some blood tests have been developed that improve the assessment of lung cancer risk in smokers , and other tests can identify individuals at high risk of developing acute myeloid leukemia (AML) years before diagnosis .
Too many people diagnosed with cancer are denied access to the personalized treatment they need and deserve. This can be due to lack of awareness and education amongst patients and healthcare professionals, limited availability, high price, or lack of reimbursement.
Awareness about cancer molecular testing remains low – only 23% of European doctors feel that their patients are always fully informed about molecular or biomarker testing . The use of cancer molecular testing in Europe also varies by country, because in many countries diagnostic tests are not integrated into clinical practice and are not reimbursed or available to a limited number of individuals with cancer. This needs to change.
The ECPC and our member organizations know that people living with cancer should be informed about all available and appropriate treatment options and be empowered to make the best decisions for their health together with their healthcare team. That's why ECPC is working towards ensuring all Europeans with cancer and at risk of getting cancer have appropriate access to cancer molecular testing. This will help to promote better diagnosis, more targeted follow up and a truly personalized treatment.
During Personalized Medicine Awareness Month 2018, the ECPC and its members have united to call for:
• Increased access and decreased waiting times for high quality molecular testing to make personalized healthcare more of a reality across Europe;
• More information to educate and empower patients and caregivers around the potential and availability of molecular testing;
• A harmonized and more efficient regulatory framework across Europe which could increase access to, and potentially reduce the cost of, molecular testing.
Personalized Medicine Awareness Month is an initiative of the ECPC – the largest European cancer patients' umbrella organization. ECPC is the voice of cancer patients in Europe. With over 420 members, covering all 28 EU member states and many other European and non-European countries, ECPC represents patients affected by all types of cancers, from the rarest to the most common.
The ECPC gratefully acknowledges the support of AbbVie, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Cancer Drug Development Forum, Genomic Health, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, MSD, Roche, Takeda for Personalized Medicine Awareness Month. The scope and content are the sole responsibility of the ECPC.
For more information about the Personalised Medicine Awareness Month 2018 and to download the Campaign Action Toolkit, available in 12 languages, please visit: www.ecpc.org/edu/personalisedmedicine
 Oncologist. 2016. Mar: 21(3): 292-300