The oncological field is on the cusp of a dramatic paradigm shift. Treatment options are expanding, and the new ones on offer are safer, more effective, and capable of covering different tumor locations with a single drug.
At the forefront of this new evolving paradigm is Bayer, the multinational pharmaceutical and life sciences company. In recent years, Bayer has made a strong commitment to developing precision-medicine treatments, particularly in the area of TRK fusion cancer, which is caused by abnormal changes to a patient’s genome.
Dr. Marc Fellous has been the Global Medical Affairs Lead for Bayer’s TRK franchise since November 2017. Originally trained as a medical doctor, he practiced emergency room medicine for over three years in Paris. He then went on to receive his master’s degree in medicine management and began a second career in the pharmaceutical industry, where he has dedicated himself to promoting innovative new drugs to the medical world for over 10 years.
“Bayer has been focusing its R&D strategies on innovative treatment options, such as precision oncology, to provide a better life for the patient,” Fellous said during a recent visit to Taipei. “The company’s oncology franchise now has six marketed drugs, while several others are still undergoing clinical development.”
Fellous characterizes precision oncology as an approach – based on a genetic understanding of disease – that can substantially improve the way certain cancers are treated. It entails the use of several new tools, including genomic profiling and next-generation sequencing (NGS). According to Fellous, NGS is likely the most comprehensive testing method for detecting tumor-growing genomic alterations which, while rare, are present in various pediatric and adult tumor types. Such a testing method allows patients and doctors to diagnose and treat TRK fusion cancer.
In addition, Bayer’s researchers have been working on specifically developing their emerging medicines to ensure that they act on one target, rather than on several targets as is sometimes the case with other drugs. However, Fellous adds, that target needs to be relevant to the specific patient. “There has to be a medical need,” he says.
One important characteristic and added-value aspect of the precision oncology treatments Bayer is developing is that they are tumor-agnostic, meaning that they are based on the tumor’s genomic features, rather than the type of tissue where the TRK fusion cancer originates. The same drug can be used to treat any TRK fusion cancer, regardless of where in the body it occurs.
“Effective approaches have been accomplished in the past, but only for specific tumor types,” notes Fellous. “For example, treatments for HER2-positive breast cancer, or for EGFR mutant lung cancer.” However, this is the first time that a drug was developed based on specific biomarkers to provide effective, targeted treatment for TRK fusion cancer, a genomically driven disease.
Given the above, it’s difficult not to view precision medicine as a pivotal breakthrough in medical science. “This kind of personalized treatment is one of the most important and most promising advances in oncology,” Fellous says. “As an approach, it means finding the right treatment for the right patient at the right time, which provides for better efficacy – higher response rates – and a better safety profile of the drug.”
No wonder, then, that Bayer has invested so heavily in precision oncology. The company now looks to ensuring the availability of innovative new medicines that can improve the lives of patients worldwide and provide value to the physicians who treat them.
“We want to provide patients with clear benefits, and we want to accelerate the development of these drugs to make those benefits more available,” Fellous says. “This is just the beginning, and it is only possible because of the new tools afforded us by precision medicine.”