Personalized Medicine for Ovarian Cancer


In 2003, the Human Genome Project was completed. This thirteen-year project was supposed to revolutionize the world of medicine, and it did help scientists understand a great deal more about the human genetic condition. It also raised considerably more questions. At the time everyone thought medicine would soon be developed to treat specific people based on their genetic information.  Medicine has developed even further in the last eight years, but there are currently only a handful of medications that factor genetic information. A new genetic study of ovarian cancer may increase the ability of physicians, scientists, and pharmacists to personalize medicine even further.

A recent study of ovarian cancer tumors, the largest study of a cancerous tumor to date, was part of the Cancer Genome Atlas project. This study focused on the most common form of the disease, HGS-OvCa. Findings indicate a common abnormality in gene TP53 in 96 percent of the tumors and minor mutations in many of the patients in genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 which have been linked to breast and ovarian cancer.

This study is a giant step forward for scientists attempting to understand cancer at a genetic level. It also has the potential to increase the ability of pharmaceutical companies to tailor medications to patients based on the type of genetic abnormality they have in conjunction with the type of cancer. There are already several medications that are available or are under development that could target the 68 genes that were identified as having a fault.

Researchers have been careful to note that not all ovarian cancers are the same, and even the tumors studied have different causes and characteristics. However, this does bring the field of medicine closer to being able to tailor medications to groups of genetically similar patients and hopefully individualized medicines for each patient.

What does this mean for pharmacists? If you are working in a hospital setting and responsible for mixing the chemotherapy regimens for patients it could mean you will soon, a relative term in the field of medicine, have a greater number of combinations to create. It is important for pharmacists, as well as other healthcare providers, to keep informed about the latest developments in genetic research and advancement. Many feel this will be the new medicinal paradigm and constant vigilance is warranted.

In the future, it may be necessary for pharmacists to be aware of each patient’s genetic profile in addition to the medications they are taking and drug allergies. How does the possibility of even greater responsibility make you feel? Are you excited, nervous, anxious? How do you think this will affect future pharmacy programs and the field itself?