Biomarkers are still largely unknown by cancer patients and are insufficiently used by physicians, according to a survey conducted by the European Cancer Patient Coalition (ECPC) and the European Alliance for Personalised Medicines (EAPM) to measure patient awareness on biomarkers across Europe, as part of an ongoing commitment to improve cancer patients' treatment outcomes.
Physicians use diagnostic tests for various levels of clinical decision support (i.e. to confirm a diagnosis, to estimate prognosis, or to make a therapy selection, etc..). Poor patient knowledge surrounding diagnostic technologies and biomarkers, and lack of reimbursement for biomarker testing in many European countries creates an obstacle for improving cancer patients' clinical outcomes.
What are biomarkers?
A biomarker is1 any substance, structure, or process that can be measured in the body or its products and influence or predict the incidence or outcome or disease. Biomarkers are also used for disease prognosis, the patient likelihood of responding to a given treatment, to monitor treatment response but also throughout the cancer drug discovery process.
Examples of biomarkers include everything from pulse and blood pressure measurements through basic chemistries to more complex laboratory tests of blood and other tissues.
What do patients know about biomarkers?
Despite the interest in ensuring optimized treatments are administered to patients, at the right time, results of the survey show that 30% of respondents are not familiar with the concept of biomarkers and 60% of respondents would not have been proposed a biomarker testing by their oncologist.
Differences also exist in testing time for biomarkers test ranging from 5 to 30+ days for the same test in different countries.
Information to patients
The survey also suggests that the relationship between patients and their oncologists can be improved as more time is required to inform patients about the challenges and benefits of biomarkers testing. 70% of respondents said that their doctor did not provide them with sufficient information.
Recommendations for policy makers
The results of this survey are a useful resource to improve clinical outcomes for cancer patients through better utilization of biomarker testing, and extends from prevention and screening technologies, through to diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. The EU can play an important role to improve patients' and clinicians understanding the use of biomarkers throughout the patients' treatment journey and to facilitate a better regulatory framework to accelerate access to biomarker testing.
What can be done?
Increase biomarker literacy: Health authorities, physicians and patient groups need to improve awareness regarding genetic testing. Communication focused upon access to testing and how it can aid in patient care provides an important opportunity to engage patients in managing their health as active partners and inform them about break-through developments in medical technologies.
Improve access: The development of biomarker-based diagnostics can facilitate faster diagnosis and treatment. For this to happen, diagnostics tests need to be integrated into the clinical setting and be affordable and available to all patients.
Adapting the regulatory framework: The regulatory and reimbursement processes must be adapted to the specificities of new technologies. Hospitals and other clinical settings have to adapt to respond to some of its challenges such as quality and assurance of the diagnosis or data privacy. In addition, a better integration of diagnostic regulations into therapeutic (i.e. drug) regulatory frameworks could improve the reimbursement and access of biomarker tests.