Before the outbreak of the SARS-Cov-2 infection that spread across the globe, cancer research was at its productivity and efficiency peak. Along with approved immunotherapies and targeted therapies in different cancer types, numerous drugs were being evaluated in thousands of clinical trials.
Coronavirus pandemics have shifted the priority levels, considerably slowing down cancer research.
The fight against the virus has become more urgent, aiming to limit the virus's further spread, cure the diseased, and decrease the death toll.
When dealing with cancer patients, oncology researchers focused primarily on reducing the risk of SARS-Cov-2 infection rather than finding new therapies for curing them.
The economic consequences of the Coronavirus are grave. When it comes to the future of cancer care and research will result in a slower evolution of cancer trials, an extension of study completion, and consequently of awaited results.
However, even though the future does not seem very bright at the moment of speaking, progress has already been made.
The future we're moving towards is marked by the shift from a one-size-fits-all approach to providing personalized and targeted treatment for each cancer patient.
Although cancer immunotherapy is still in its' infancy, it is bringing hope to many cancer patients. It consists of treatments that should activate a patient's immune system to prevent cancer or fight against it.
Medicines that are being used in immunotherapy are qualitatively different from others. While chemotherapy and radiotherapy have numerous toxic effects on the body, immunotherapy works by interfering with specific parts of cancer biology or activating the body's response to cancerous cells.
As a matter of fact, it can direct the immune system to kill only cancer cells, without any harm done to the healthy cells.
Some of the ongoing research determined that a specific immune cell type - plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs), which play an important role in fighting viral infections, may play a crucial role in fighting cancer as well.
The research team at the City University of Hong Kong is now trying to discover the capacity of pDCs in the treatment of breast and liver cancer, exploring different ways to stimulate the immune system in curing cancer.
Breast cancer treatment has gone a long way with the development of precision medicine treatments. It's now possible to test for gene mutations that can increase the risk of developing breast cancer, while patients with metastatic cancer can now have their DNA and tumor RNA sequenced, determining the specific drivers of their cancer and suggesting the benefits of one treatment over the other.
However, it's still hard to determine why some people with breast tumors can be cured while others have cancer spread all through their bodies.
Further immunotherapy researches might indeed give us a clue.
Personalized Cancer Healthcare
In the coming decades, we'll see a dramatic shift in healthcare practice towards more personalized healthcare solutions.
However, to achieve such more personalized cancer treatments, medical experts require a massive scale of data. Artificial intelligence and Big Data have made it possible to accumulate and analyze incredible amounts of patients' data, enabling medical experts and patients to make better decisions that are based on relevant information.
For example, Roche is researching individualized cancer vaccines, using the unique combination of molecular tags in a person's cancer, to activate their immune system's response against it.
There are also researches into genomic profiling that uncover gene fusions and characteristic mutations to determine what diverse cancers have in common, making it possible for a medicine to treat different cancer types, no matter where their site of origin is.
Even though cancer researches, trials, and publications have been put to hold due to Coronavirus pandemics, the truth is that the origins of future cancer care and research are already here.
Hundreds of tests of genetic abnormalities are developed. The number will only continue to increase, as well as the number of targeted drugs for personalized treatments.
Modern technology allows patients to quickly learn about their options and shorten their time to treatment or surgery. Outcomes for patients have significantly improved, and the treatments are continually evolving.
It's on cancer researchers to ensure the revival of studies as soon as the circumstances allow.
Peter Minkof is a health and science student and writer at Iris magazine. Follow Peter on Twitter for more works.