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The Promise of Targeted Therapy

The Promise of Targeted Therapy

Many oncologists believe that targeted therapies will be the treatment of choice in the future with solid tumor cancer viewed as a chronic condition instead of a disease that can only kill or be cured. Methods for long-term treatment, with fewer side-effects, continue to be investigated.

It is hoped that targeted cancer therapies give doctors a better way to tailor cancer treatment with treatments individualized based on the unique set of molecular targets produced by the patient's tumor.

What are the potential advantages of targeted therapies?

  • Fewer side effects and improved quality of life for patients compared with some other cancer therapies
  • Corrections to molecular and cellular abnormalities of cancer
  • Treatment of cancer as a chronic disease
  • Oral medication, intravenous (into the vein) administration, injection

What are the potential disadvantages of targeted therapies?

Targeted therapies usually only address one "target". For some people, correcting one molecular or cellular target may be effective in cancer treatment; however, since there may be multiple molecular and cellular abnormalities involved, other people may require therapies that address more than one target.

Other disadvantages may be

  • High cost
  • Dependency on drugs to maintain molecular and cellular changes for the balance of life
  • Potential for short-term efficacy

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What is the availability of targeted therapies?

Some targeted therapies have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for specific types of cancer, and are used "off-label" to treat other cancers.

Biological therapies are also available through clinical trials (research studies in people).

Health insurance companies may or may not provide coverage for targeted therapies, since some may be very expensive.

Ask your oncologist about targeted therapies for your diagnosis; sometimes targeted therapies can be combined with other cancer therapies.

What is the future of targeted therapies?

The next stage of targeted therapies will be focused on finding which patients will respond to which targeted therapies. This is called the identification of subpopulations. The way to identify these subpopulations is through the use of biomarkers and surrogate endpoints.

Targets: New and Established

The definition of "target" itself is something debated within the pharmaceutical industry. However, the distinction between a new and established target can be made without a perfect definition or a full understanding of the term target.

Screening and Design

The process of finding a new drug to use for a chosen target in a particular disease usually involves high-throughput screening (HTS), in which large libraries of chemicals are tested for their ability to modify the target.

For example, if the target is a protein kinase, chemicals will be tested for their ability to inhibit that kinase.

Future research will evaluate the following:



  • Subgroups of people with cancer that are more likely to benefit from specific targeted therapies.
  • Molecular and cellular characteristics that are present when targeted therapies work and when they do not work in people.

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