There’s no denying it: precision oncology holds great promise for the future of cancer treatment. The relatively new practice of targeting specific genetic biomarkers to create more effective medications is increasingly receiving attention.
In 2017 the FDA approved the first cancer treatment for any solid tumor with a specific genetic marker, and in 2019 the FDA approved the first cancer treatment for a biomarker, not a tissue. It’s clear that precision medicine has a place and that advances are being made rapidly.
While treatments like these help make great strides in the fight against cancer, it also presents challenges. In clinical trials, precision medicine requires finding a pool of eligible candidates with a specific, and potentially rare, genetic profile.
This exacerbates what is already widely cited as the most significant challenge of clinical research: managing patient recruitment and retention. According to The US National Library of Medicine, more than 25% of patients drop out of oncology trials before completion.
This is often due to inconvenience – it’s common for research sites to be 50 or more miles from a patient’s home or workplace. However, oncology faces the additional hurdle of the fact that patients with a life-threatening illness are simply less likely to try unproven treatments.
Coupling these difficulties with the additional challenges precision oncology presents makes these clinical trials especially daunting. Because eligibility for precision medicine is so narrow, it’s possible the only eligible patients could live hundreds of miles from the nearest research site.
Keeping a trial on schedule under these circumstances could prove highly problematic since timelines get backed up each time a patient drops out or even misses an appointment. The result could be a continuous lengthening of the road to bringing life-improving treatments to those in need.
How New Technology Provides a Viable Solution
The technology enabling biomarker-based treatment has positioned precision medicine, and all its related promise and challenges, as a potential revolution in cancer treatment. But just as technology, in this way, has played a role in creating new patient recruitment hurdles, it can also play a role in overcoming them.
mHealth and eClinical tools can reduce the burden on those patients’ schedules, and ultimately allow researchers to bring new treatments to populations in need faster. These solutions can allow higher-quality data to be collected without site visits, saving patients time and long drives and thus improving the likelihood they will stay enrolled in trials.
ePRO also reduces the patient burden by allowing PRO surveys to be emailed to patients for convenient completion at home.
The greater implications of these tools for precision oncology researchers are that, for example, if a potential patient with specific biomarkers needed for a study lives 100 miles from the nearest site, it may still be possible to recruit and keep this person in a trial if they only need to make the occasional site visit.
While some difficulties with patient recruitment and attrition are unavoidable, technology is opening doors and empowering researchers in ways that were unimaginable even a few years ago.
It is with these new tools that researchers can better facilitate precision oncology approaches and improve their chances of making breakthroughs faster and helping those in need sooner.