This is changing. As science discovers more about the nature of illness, healthcare professionals are acquiring new powers to predict which medicine will work best for individual patients.
This shift away from the established one-size-fits-all approach and towards tailoring healthcare to patients’ individual needs is known as ‘personalised healthcare’. While this fast-moving field is still in development, the ideal outcome would be for all patients to receive the right treatment at the rise dose at the right time – every time.
It is not yet feasible to provide each individual patient with a unique treatment. However, it is possible, using in vitro diagnostics (IVDs), to divide patients into a number of categories, according to their biological and genetic make-up.
Assigning a patient to a specific group involves testing for specific indicators known as biomarkers. The presence or absence of a biomarker can predict how the patient will respond to a particular treatment. These tests, known as companion diagnostics, can inform treatment decisions and improve patient outcomes. Companion diagnostics are already used to test for biomarkers for breast cancer, colorectal cancer and certain lung cancers amongst others.
For patients, the value of this approach is clear as the chances of effective treatment are enhanced. For healthcare professionals too, biomarkers give increased confidence that treatment will deliver positive results. And payers and policymakers find reassurance in the fact that treatment decisions informed by companion diagnostics are more cost-effective. In addition, the risk and waste associated with exposing patients to ineffective treatments is reduced – which is good news all round.