Advances in technology will have a sizable impact on the oncology sector in the next decade. The trends we will identify in this post include advances in drug development (specifically targeted or combination therapies), use of real-world evidence, and new technologies used in the treatment and guidance of cancer care. Mobile medical apps are a big topic, and while a variety of apps focus on wellness and prevention, a large number sponsored by pharma companies can access information and improve diagnosis and disease management.
1. Advances in Drug Development and Oncology Treatment Pipeline
Advances in cancer therapeutics include drug development activities that involve the rise of immuno-oncology treatments, a multiple-drug treatment approach, and the identification of biomarkers, which are used in diagnostics testing and the development of targeted therapies and biologics. In fact, three-quarters of new active-substance cancer therapeutics launched last year were designated as Breakthrough Therapies by the US Food and Drug Administration, meaning they had more clinically significant endpoints over existing therapies and demonstrated improved survival rates.
Immuno-oncology treatments targeting so-called checkpoint inhibitors have been proven efficacious in treating dozens of different tumor types. The pipeline of immunotherapies is especially active, including almost 300 molecules with 60 separate mechanisms of action for multiple indications. Besides individual therapeutics, the approach of using a multiple-drug treatment has extended to the trend of immuno-oncology checkpoint inhibitors (in practice; so far only used in the treatment of metastatic melanoma patients).
While most new drugs being developed are targeted therapies, including small molecules and biologics, certain molecules are being studied for multiple targets or for use in combination therapies. In oncology practices, an increasing number of treatment protocols are based on the identification of distinct biomarkers, which allows for increased specificity in cancer care. Today, predictive biomarker and diagnostic testing can recommend personalized courses of treatment, leading to more-tolerable therapies, better treatment response, and improved outcomes.
2. Real-World Evidence for Oncology Decision-Making
Oncology practices usually rely on data from clinical trials for informed clinical decision-making. However, available clinical trial data in new or rare oncology areas are often limited, because treatments for these indications can be approved on the basis of phase II trials, an inherently smaller patient population than would be found in further (ie, phase III) trials. Real-world evidence can help fill these expanding knowledge gaps. While real-world data typically act as supportive evidence for current trials or corroborate trial results, they are valuable in extending information beyond the trial, such as understanding disease progression, survival periods, and treatment efficacy for niche indications or different patient subgroups.
Real-world evidence can guide more-personalized treatment, especially for discovering and promoting new indications for treatment combinations—many of which are not supported by clinical trials. The personalized care trend is expected in every medical category, and real-world evidence can help establish both clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness in new and rare treatment schemes.
The growing availability of real-world evidence is increasingly being leveraged to improve clinical decision-making and pursue the development of innovative indications. The biggest challenges of using real-world evidence in practice are related to gathering quality data, data access, and appropriate governance of data. To address these issues, new technologies help research scientists extract, manipulate, and analyze data in real time and in a real-world setting, while simulated data sets match the original data infrastructure, but leave out sensitive patient data.
3. Technological Advances Expected to Impact Oncology Treatment
Advances in biopharmaceuticals, including immuno-oncology, cell and gene therapies, and small-molecule mechanisms, could not have developed without advances in technology. Noninvasive surgical interventions have also benefited from tech innovation, including robotics and improved imaging techniques that could reduce the risk of complications. Another important development that could benefit cancer patients in the future is 3D printing and the potential of bio-printing to replace cancerous tissues or organs.
Data science includes real-world data and artificial intelligence, and has potential uses in medical apps and telemedicine. Telemedicine helps patients in remote areas who are immunocompromised or are immobilized by recent surgery access quality medical care. In addition, the growing adoption of medical apps can improve diagnosis by non-oncologists, drive better treatment adherence, and keep patients engaged in their cancer care.
While thousands of consumer apps are self-defined as relating to cancer, about 1,075 are actually cancer-type specific and serve cancer patient communities. Most of these are wellness apps and are focused on cancer prevention or risk assessment. Another group of medical apps are sponsored by pharmaceutical companies. These provide information on medications and encourage treatment adherence by including treatment reminders, symptom tracking, and organization of personal information, to make doctor visits more productive.
While relatively new, a few apps available collect anonymous or simulated patient data to learn more about the patient experience in improving cancer care. In general, medical apps are increasingly being tested in clinical trial settings to demonstrate their efficacy in supporting adherence and lifestyle modifications.
These 3 big global oncology trends will likely change the way we think about and treat cancer for years to come.