Treatments improved through personalised medicine
The EU is investing in the development of personalised medicine, which allows doctors to offer preventative treatments for cancer and heart disease.
Most commonly used to treat cancer, personalised medicine can offer patients the best possible treatment by focusing on the individual genetic and biological make-up of their tumours. Thanks to advances in research, personalised medicine could be made available to more patients, and scientists are optimistic about its future.
If traditional treatments are ineffective, or the cancer is recurrent, patients can undergo tests to determine the specific molecular anomalies in their tumours, and how best to block their enzyme activity. Doctors can then target these anomalies, which may occur in multiple cancers, and are thus able to prescribe medication to treat several tumours simultaneously.
"Personalised medicine works by focusing on the genetic make-up of the tumour, rather than the patient," Agnès Buzyn, president of the French National Cancer Institute (INCA), explained during a Medef Summer University workshop.
External factors such as environment and lifestyle are also taken into account, as they can influence a patient's illness and the effectiveness of its treatment.
Heart disease risk-assessment
Personalised medicine can also be used to treat heart disease. Risk assessment can greatly improve the effectiveness of preventative treatment, and can enable doctors to intervene swiftly with effective measures before any problems arise.
By analysing the concentration of certain proteins in the blood, along with the patient's individual genetic data, it is possible to predict with relative accuracy whether the patient is at risk of developing heart disease in the future.
Pharmaceutical companies take the strain
The vice president of Sanofi R&D France, Philippe Monteyne, believes that the pharmaceuticals industry has to "rethink its research and development model to bring the laboratory research closer to the patient's bedside". He maintains that it is vitally important to gain a "better understanding of the illnesses we are working on, and a better understanding of our patients, before investing in hugely expensive studies".
He also stresses that personalised medicine should form part of a comprehensive health strategy comprised of preventative, predictive and participative treatments such as good nutrition and physical activity, early detection and patient monitoring of illnesses.
EU invests in research
The European Commission has allocated funds to several personalised medicine programmes linked to cancer, heart disease and nervous system disorders. In a 2013 paper entitled "Use of '-omics' technologies in the development of personalised medicine", the Commission states that personalised medicine can offer new treatment options and help avoid the clinical errors and side effects associated with traditional medication.
Around 4 million Europeans and 1.9 million EU citizens die from heart disease each year, according to the European Heart Network (EHN) and the European Society of Cardiology (ESC). The commonest forms of heart disease are coronary diseases and strokes.
The EU member states agreed to tackle the underlying health issues in the programme of Community action in the field of public health (2003-2008), aiming to reduce the number of deaths from heart disease.
Major underlying causes of heart disease include smoking, obesity, poor diet, lack of exercise and high blood pressure.