July 23, 2018, 2:00 am
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New biomarker vital in immunotherapy for lung cancer

IN the Philippines, lung cancer is the second top fatal malignancy in terms of incidence and mortality. 

The good news is that recent developments in cancer treatments have spelled a viable alternative to chemotherapy, which brings attendant side effects such as nausea and weakness, and provides a slim margin of patient survival against the disease.

MSD in the Philippines has recently launched in the local market a long-awaited pioneering treatment against malignancies now being utilized worldwide, called targeted immunotherapy, which has significantly less side effects and improves patient survival against the disease based on numerous clinical studies.

A particular immunotherapy drug, pembrolizumab, is now indicated for first-line treatment specifically against non–small cell lung cancer with high expression of a particular cell protein called PD-L1.

Given the nature of specialized treatment of targeted immunotherapy, its effective and efficient use relies heavily on screening for such particular proteins or biomarkers, which are biological substances that indicate whether certain processes in the body are normal or abnormal.

Understanding the presence of biomarkers help doctors predict the body’s response to certain treatments.

Thus, MSD in the Philippines has also embarked on an advocacy to support healthcare initiatives that seek to improve lung cancer screening and diagnosis in the country.

A symposium entitled “Emerging Standard: Biomarker testing and immunotherapy” was recently organized by MSD during the annual convention of the Philippine Society of Pathologists, bringing in as guest speaker top regional expert Dr. Yoon-La Choi from the Samsung Medical Center–Department of Pathology in South Korea.

Dr. Choi discussed emerging trends in biomarkers and their identification, the practice of which is expected to improve prognosis and to determine qualified patients when selecting appropriate treatments such as immunotherapy. Doctors are also able to better monitor efficacies and adverse results.

However, even before this, in general, early detection of disease through screening is a vital first step in battling cancer, according to Dr. Ivy de Dios, MSD medical adviser for oncology global medical affairs.

 “Many Filipinos only seek the help of practitioners when they already feel unwell or when symptoms are most obvious,” observes Dr. de Dios. “At that point, survival rate drastically lessens as more often than not, patients are already diagnosed and treated at the disease’s more advanced stages.”

She urges, “Go get tested especially if you are one of the high-risk persons by being a smoker or exposed to second-hand smoke.”

She also pointed out that some lung cancer symptoms mimic those of tuberculosis, which is endemic in the country. Foregoing proper diagnostics may lead to wrong assumptions about the case of the patients, resulting in incorrect and ineffective treatments. “There is hope for lung cancer of innovative treatments such as immunotherapy,” emphasizes Dr. de Dios. “Filipinos should not dread knowing if they have the disease or not because there are now more options for combating lung cancer.”

She also believes that an effective cancer management involves a multidisciplinary and multi-sectoral approach. “We continue to support initiatives that seek to improve lung cancer management among Filipino patients, whether it be from the private or government sector,” she added.

According to Dr. Choi, in South Korea where the government’s comprehensive health care program includes cancer patient management, a concordant test method is critical in cutting costs by identifying candidates that need immediate care, prescribing the appropriate medicine, measuring its effectiveness and potential side-effects.

In the Philippines, most of the expenses are mainly shouldered by the patients. Therefore, a consistent and reliable diagnostics is not only economical but can significantly minimize the incidence of misdiagnosis.
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