Stories by Ronald DePinho

Expert Voices

How precision medicine can help cancer patients

Scott Greaney receives an injection of chemotherapy during a treatment visit to the Harold Alfond Center for Cancer Care in Augusta on Oct. 29, 2014.
A man receives a chemotherapy injection at the Harold Alfond Center for Cancer Care in Augusta, Maine. Photo: Michael G. Seamans/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Last year, the FDA issued a landmark approval for the immune therapy drug pembrolizumab (Keytruda) for the treatment of adult and pediatric metastatic tumors whose cells have defects in their DNA repair machinery. This was the first-ever approval of a site-agnostic drug, which targets a tumor based on its genetic profile instead of its anatomic location.

The big picture: The carpet-bombing approach of chemotherapy is slowly giving way to targeted therapies, which use drugs to attack specific abnormal molecules in cancer cells. Because these rogue molecules result from genetic mutations, sequencing the genes of a patient's tumor can determine which targeted therapy to pursue — an example of the personalized approach to treatment known as precision medicine.

Expert Voices

HPV vaccination rates show progress, but off track for 2020 goal

Pediatrician Richard K. Ohnmacht prepares a shot of the HPV vaccine Gardasil for a patient at his office in Cranston, Rhode Island, Sept. 3, 2015.
A pediatrician prepares a shot of the HPV vaccine Gardasil for a patient. Photo: Keith Bedford/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

In 2006, a safe and effective human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine became available to protect against cancers caused by HPV infection. HPV vaccination rates in adolescent boys and girls are rising, though still not fast enough, with HPV-linked cancer cases soaring by nearly 45% between 1999 and 2015. Fewer than half of American adolescents have been fully vaccinated, far short of the 80% goal officials have set for 2020.

Why it matters: The lifetime risk of acquiring an HPV infection is approximately 80%. Each year, 14 million new cases are diagnosed in the U.S., and 79 million Americans are currently infected, putting them at increased risk of cervical cancer as well as throat, vaginal, penile and anal cancers. A more comprehensive campaign is needed to make the world free of HPV infections.