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Why personalized diagnostics in oncology are only limited available today

For two decades, personalized diagnostics hold the biggest promise to increase the chances of survival for cancer patients. They will allow personalized treatment by linking the best medicines to the type of cancer a patient is facing, independent of the location in the body. Henk Viëtor, a serial Life Sciences entrepreneur who is dedicated to contributing to the personalized diagnostics field, shares his views on how it could be made accessible to patients faster. 

In what way have you worked on personalized diagnostics in 2022?

“Last year, we initiated a consortium aimed to help the introduction of personalized diagnostics in oncology. Besides myself, the consortium includes pivotal players, including but not limited to, Casper van Eijck of the Erasmus MC and Aernout Somson of the Cardiologie Centra Nederland (CCN). All of us share the opinion that personalized diagnostics and medicine are not something for the future, but for today, because technologies and targeted therapies to implement them are present. The problem is that nobody dares to lay the puzzle. Within our consortium we have focused on bringing the stakeholders together and search funding to bring our initiative to life.”

What advancements did the field make?

“This past year I have seen various new promising technologies in development for cancer diagnostics. Innovations in biophotonics, for example, enable early detection of cancers on cellular and sub-cellular levels. Or the first CE-marked in vitro diagnostic (IVD) test kit that was launched by Illumina to assess the specific molecular profile of a patient’s cancer. In the Netherlands, the Dutch Hartwig Foundation is performing whole genome sequencing for patients with cancer to make personalized treatments available. A lot is happening, but the pace is too slow for these developments to reach all patients.”

What is hampering the availability of personalized oncology in clinical practice today?

“In my opinion, this problem is threefold. First, we require the translation of existing technologies into affordable diagnostic products that fit in the workflows of hospitals and their laboratories, and to ensure that personalized medicine bring a positive health technology assessment (HTA) for the treatment of patients. Second, we need bigger datasets for the AI-algorithms that have been developed over the past years, to bring meaningful results. This will enable them to discover meaningful relations between individual mutations in tumors and the treatment response to specific medicines. Unfortunately, researchers around the world are still reluctant to make their valuable patient data from scientific clinical research available. Third, the introduction of new diagnostics, especially when it comes to personalized oncology that is independent of the location of cancer in the human body, is challenging for the healthcare system that is historically built on medical expertise and treatments focused on isolated parts of the body. This requires all stakeholders within in very conservative and bureaucratic healthcare system to change workflows and find different solutions.” 

What are your expectations for 2023 and beyond?

“I have good hopes that in 2023 we will find the funding that is required for getting our consortium off the ground to make innovative diagnostic tools available for cancer patients. Despite the many hurdles along the way, I believe that we are quite near the point where new technologies will offer very accurate diagnostics at an affordable price. Maybe not in 2023, but as developments keep on progressing, I am extremely positive that in the next 10 years diagnostics will start living up to their full potential.”

About the author
Picture of Henk Viëtor

Henk Viëtor