The National Cancer Institute's announcement Monday that it will soon begin a nationwide trial to test treatments based on the genetic mutations in patients' tumors, rather than on where the tumors occur in the body, highlights a profound shift taking place in the development of cancer drugs.
Researchers increasingly are using DNA sequencing, which has become far faster and cheaper over time, to identify molecular abnormalities in cancers. That technology is allowing them to develop drugs they hope will prove more effective in specific sets of patients and to design clinical trials that get the most promising drugs to market more quickly.
"We are truly in a paradigm change," James H. Doroshow, director of the division of cancer treatment and diagnosis at the NCI, said in announcing the initiative Monday. He called the project "the largest and most rigorous precision oncology trial that's ever been attempted."
Traditionally, drug trials have focused on cancers in specific organs, such as the lungs or prostate. But that model is being upended by newer approaches such as basket trials, which group together patients with similar genetic mutations, regardless of the location of their cancers.