Each person’s genetic makeup is unique, and the thousands of treatments and medicines currently available to patients vary in how they impact different subsets of the population. This is especially true for diseases such as cancer and autoimmune conditions, which are integrally-tied to a person’s genome. It’s why scientists today understand that no two tumors are alike, and the condition broadly referred to as "cancer" is in fact a group of hundreds of different diseases.
Personalized medicine, an emerging field of biopharmaceutical research, accounts for these differences and seeks to address how certain treatments are more suitable for some patients, compared to others. This area of research, also known as “precision” or “individualized” medicine, uses diagnostic tools to identify specific biological markers to predict the likelihood of response, which can help physicians select the right treatments for the right patients.
At Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), thousands of researchers are working every day to make personalized medicine a reality for more patients.
Relying on multiple, highly-advanced areas of science, such as bioinformatics and digital pathology researchers are making discoveries about human and disease biology and applying insights from those findings to help develop new treatment options. This interdisciplinary approach to research, known as translational medicine, is essential to efficient and effective drug discovery.
Tarek Leil, head of quantitative clinical pharmacology at Bristol-Myers Squibb, offered one interesting analogy to describe an example of translational medicine in action.
“Before taking a plane out for the first time, the aerospace industry has models that will predict how the plane will behave. [Similarly], mathematical models have also been used in the pharmaceutical industry for at least 30 years,” says Leil. “However, with recent innovations in computation technology, we’ve been able to explore more comprehensive and complex models that encompass many different disease processes, which allows us to better understand how drugs may behave in the body and predict which mechanisms will succeed in clinical trials.”
Because translational medicine requires multiple areas of research to work in concert, the teams at Bristol-Myers Squibb are integrated in a way that fosters collaboration across a large breadth of scientific disciplines. This structure allows researchers to quickly pursue promising areas of science that they may have otherwise overlooked if working alone.
“All of these disciplines are complementary,” says Tunde Bello, head of clinical pharmacology and pharmacometrics at Bristol-Myers Squibb. “They bring different aspects of drug development to the table, and they bring different information that is needed to bring the story together. In that way, it makes for a more efficient process.”
Today, 42 percent of medicines in development have the potential to be personalized. As a result, health care providers will be able to more quickly target the right treatment for a patient, pinpoint optimal dosing and more quickly connect patients to the right clinical trial, improving efficiencies and lowering costs across the health care system.
“While we have always worked with urgency to help patients, the technology and our understanding of disease biology have finally reached the point where we can make precision medicine a reality,” says Mike Montalto, head of translational pathology and biomarker technologies at Bristol-Myers Squibb. “Having been in cancer research for the past 20 years, I can say that there is probably not a more exciting time to be in this field of study. We’re truly on the verge of transforming how cancer is treated.”