Precision therapy, innovations: A boon for cancer patients

  • Sidhartha Dutta, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jun 23, 2014 01:13 IST

In the age of precision therapy and technological innovations in cancer treatment, oncologists now claim that cancer is the only disease that can be cured besides nutritional deficiencies and infections.

With new-age targeted therapy in cancer, curing the disease has become easier. The few latest form of targeted therapy in cancer include intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT), use of Imatinib - a tyrosine-kinase inhibitor (TKI), and monoclonal antibodies (MoAb).

MoAb and TKIs are groups of drugs that are used for treating several diseases including cancers. MoAbs are also used to treat rheumatoid arthritis as well as shock. They can cure some patients if detected early and in others they may be able to cure the disease even in advanced stages.

“The advantages of MoAbs and TKIs is that target only cancerous cells and so, the chance of response is higher and side-effects significantly less. They also maintain or improve quality of life,” said Dr Purvish M Parikh, national managing committee member, Indian Cancer Society and president of SAARC Federation for Oncologists.

“Imatinib is used mainly to treat chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) and gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs). It directly targets the tumour and is considered is better than chemotherapy since its success rate is much higher. This is the future of cancer treatment because it has no side-effects like hair loss or infections,” said Dr GK Rath, chief, Dr BRA Institute-Rotary Cancer Hospital, AIIMS.

According to experts, like any new technology, these are fairly expensive. However, several government hospitals such as AIIMS provide the therapy free of cost to patients. Several states also have government schemes that provide financial assistance of up to `1.5 lakh for treatment of poor cancer patients. The cost of new therapies in private set-up ranges from `50,000 to `4 lakh. Therapies like stem cell transplantation can cost up to `20 lakh.

“Earlier MoAB and TKIs had to be imported. Now they are manufactured in India and marketed worldwide by several multinational Indian pharma companies. Implantable prosthesis for limb salvage surgery has been developed by IIT-Mumbai in collaboration with Orthopedic Oncologists in India. Their innovative design and material make it better than any prosthesis available globally. The machines for IMRT and IGRT are currently being imported. The Department of Atomic Energy, Government of India, has started manufacturing linear accelerators to give targeted radiation therapy,” said Parikh.

In a panel discussion between leading oncologists of the country in Delhi recently, there was also a consensus on the need for bio-banks across the country. “Biobanks help in the storage of cancer tissues. Later, these tissues can be used for the testing new drugs. Such banks are available at Tata Memorial Hospital, at AIIMS and the National Institute of Pathology on an experimental basis,” said Rath.

Umbilical cord blood banks have been available for more than six years in India. More recently there is additional focus on tumor banking which have been set up by academic institutions such as Tata Memorial Hospital and NGOs like Indian Cooperative Oncology Network and a few private hospitals.

“Biobanking will provide us access to live and frozen cancer tumour cells and their normal counterparts. We can then test the metabolic pathways and molecular genetic changes that lead to growth and spread of a specific cancer and devise/select the right treatment of each patient,” added Dr Parikh.

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