Our focus on regenerative medicine this month, with its inherent personalized approach, brings to my mind aspects of “the patient experience.” Last week at BPI West in Santa Clara, CA, I was intensely moved by the performance of lymphoma survivor Toby Peach (www.tobypeach.co.uk). Our KNect365 colleagues will be asking him back this fall for the BPI Conference in Boston, and I encourage you not to miss him if you’re there. Many of us will be touched by some form of cancer in our lifetimes — whether through our own diagnoses or those of people we love — and the shared experience binds us all together.
A friend of mine recently passed away from complications related to her own battle with breast cancer decades ago. A retired nurse herself, Yvonne was a great inspiration to me when I faced cervical cancer a few years ago. Extreme radiotherapy saved her way back when, but it also devastated her lungs. For many years, she carried an oxygen concentrator in a backpack everywhere she went — from home to the barn to the store, you name it, those little plastic tubes were always there at her nose. This winter, finally, they weren’t enough, and this tough old horsewoman was lost to us. Our boarding barn will not be the same without her, and her Mustang horse misses her even more than I do.
Today, biopharmaceuticals such as Herceptin (trastuzumab) offer a much less dangerous option to women with breast cancer, and I wish it had been around in Yvonne’s time as well. Meanwhile, cervical cancer patients like me still depend on radiation and chemotherapy. “It works so well,” my oncologist explained, “that no one has bothered to come up with a viable alternative.” (Though I have seen some reports of biotech companies dipping their toes into potentially treating the more recalcitrant forms of cervical cancer.) Even today, three years later, I live with some consequences of the admittedly advanced radiation technology. Much more targeted than what Yvonne endured, it did make permanent changes to my daily life.
Another friend of mine was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis last year, and a biologic recently was added to her treatment regimen. Despite what she laughingly describes as her “snakebite appointment,” Michelle is thankful for the real results the injections provide. Thanks to her monoclonal antibody (MAb) treatment, she can keep working her hands-on job without debilitating pain and swelling. But is a day coming when a gene/cell therapy could cure her completely?
Every drug has side effects, and patients must make their own risk/benefit decisions. Biotechnology certainly has improved the balance there, especially over traditional approaches, but there’s still room for improvement. Recent ads highlight a formulation change for one MAb that will improve the patient experience — soften that snakebite, perhaps. Regenerative medicine companies seek to lower the costs of their products. Autoinjectors make it possible to take your medicine at home. HPV vaccines prevent cervical cancer from childhood. And when all these stories come together in my head, I can’t help thinking that we’re all patients and caregivers in the end. Remember that when you go to work tomorrow.