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Personalised medicine could ‘eradicate’ cancer in a third of patients

Personalised medicine that analyses the DNA of tumours could ‘eradicate’ cancer in up to a third of patients, study claims

  • Every patient’s tumour is unique, with no ‘one-size-fits-all’ treatment
  • Scientists looked at 215 people with a range of cancers who failed existing drugs
  • Were treated according to ‘molecular variants’ on their specific tumour

Personalised medicine could ‘eradicate’ cancer in a third of patients, research suggests.

Every tumour is unique, with studies increasingly showing there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to treating the disease.

However, limited evidence shows the benefits of treating patients according to their cancer’s specific DNA.   

Scientists from the Netherlands Cancer Institute therefore looked at 215 people with a range of cancers who had failed to respond to existing drugs.

The patients were treated according to ‘molecular variants’ on their specific tumour.

After 16 weeks, 74 (34 per cent) saw their cancer vanish or shrink, the results show. For 26 patients, the effects were still seen up to two years later.

Personalised medicine could ‘eradicate’ cancer in a third of patients (stock)

One in two people born after 1960 in the UK will develop cancer at some point in their life, Cancer Research UK statistics show. 

People with the ‘same’ type of tumour can differ in how the malignant mass is made up, which may affect how they respond to treatment.

Analysing the DNA of a specific tumour can throw up variants that existing drugs act on, even if they are not approved for that particular disease, the scientists wrote in the journal Nature.

When patients are given these drugs ‘off-label’, the outcome is not always recorded, they added.


Personalised cancer drugs are prescribed according to a tumour’s specific DNA and growth.

Genetic testing of both malignant and healthy cells helps doctors customise treatment.

This tends to be more effective and reduces side effects.

Before personalised treatment, most people with a specific type and stage of cancer received the same medication.

Scientists noted some patients responded better than others.

They therefore looked for genetic differences that may influence treatment success.

Targeted treatments are available for the following cancers:

  • Breast
  • Colorectal
  • Gastrointestinal
  • Kidney
  • Lung
  • Melanoma
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Some types of leukaemia and lymphoma
  • Some childhood cancers 

Some are only offered via clinical trials. They can also be expensive and time-consuming. 


The scientists therefore created the Drug Rediscovery protocol, which monitors the outcome of an off-label drug for a specific tumour.

To test its effectiveness, they looked at 215 cancer patients with ‘actionable variants for which no approved drugs are available’. 

The patients had also exhausted or turned down all existing treatments.

After 16 weeks, 34 per cent achieved a clinical or partial response. 

A clinical response is all the cancer disappearing, with no disease remaining, while a partial response occurs when a tumour shrinks by a given percentage.

One of these outcomes occurred in 136 patients receiving off-label targeted drugs and 79 on immunotherapy. 

The benefits lasted an average of nine months, with 26 patients experiencing an ‘ongoing clinical benefit’ when the study ended in May this year.

Of the 141 (66 per cent) patients who did not experience a ‘clinical benefit’, 117 had progressive cancer.

Twenty four did not complete the study due to death, side effects or simply a ‘preference’ not to take part.

The scientists claim safety results were similar to those seen in real-life settings. 

They believe their study shows the ‘feasibility of precision medicine driven by tumour type and profile’. 

The database may one day provide ‘more appropriate treatment options for each patient’, the team said. 

It could also be shared internationally to benefit patients around the world. 

The scientists stress, however, the study did not have a ‘control group’, which limits its reliability.  


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