The MIT Technology Review has an article on some of the new diagnostic tests that have come to market, based on cancer genes that may indicate susceptibility to certain therapies:
Tarceva, a drug for lung cancer, and its accompanying diagnostic test are often hailed as a model for this intersection of genetics and pharmacology, called pharmacogenomics. In May 2004, scientists discovered a mutation in the gene for the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) that predicts who will respond to the drug. (The drug is more effective in patients whose tumors carry the mutation.) Sixteen months later, in September 2005, a commercially available version of the test was on the market, made by Genzyme Genetics, a diagnostics company based in Westborough, MA.
Doctors can use the Genzyme test to help select the right treatment for a patient — but the results aren’t always black or white, for not all patients who respond well to Tarceva carry the EGFR mutation. “Biological complexity strikes again,” says Rosenkrans. “If you want an effective diagnostic, you can’t just look at the EGFR receptor.”
It’s pretty incredible that genes identified in labs just a year or two ago are already factoring into treatment decisions. Whether or not this information is truly helpful is something for clinical trials to decide.