The Coming Third Wave of Precision Cancer Medicines

“Targeted treatments for cancer have been extending and saving lives for more than 15 years—precision medicine isn’t a new idea in oncology. Now drugs pioneered on select, specific cancers are, one by one, finding new applications.

“The first wave of targeted drug approvals were for cancers associated with specific mutations. Herceptin (traztuzumab) led the way, approved in 1998. It’s a monoclonal antibody deployed against the HER2/neu receptor that is overabundant in some aggressive and early-onset breast cancers. Robert Bazell’s excellent book Her 2 tells the tale.

“In 2001 came the blockbuster Gleevec (imatinib), a small molecule that intercepts signals to divide. Erin Zammett’s My So-Called Normal Life with Cancer relates that story. A very young editor at Glamour magazine when a routine check-up revealed chronic myelogenous leukemia, Erin’s recovery was one of the first of thousands thanks to this now famous drug.”