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Kinase Inhibitors: The Rise of Personalized Cancer Treatment

By Da Young Kang

Graphic by Alex Jeon

In 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) presented the top ten causes of death in the U.S., and, unsurprisingly, cancer held second place. Among remarkable efforts to treat cancer and to improve the lives of patients, this article introduces Blueprint Medicines, a company that is unique in incorporating kinase inhibitors to treat cancer. Kinase inhibitors, as their name suggests, block an enzyme called a kinase that is more active in some cases of cancer. Established in 2011, Blueprint Medicines strives to improve the lives of patients with rare diseases and genetic cancers by researching kinase inhibitors.

Blueprint Medicines is a precision therapy company. In contrast to the “one-size-fits-all” cancer treatments that may be applied to patients across a type of cancer at a certain stage, precision therapy aims to individualize treatment based on genetic information. This form of therapy is significant because it addresses the possibly diverging responses of patients who share the same type of cancer. For example, two people with the same type of cancer may have unique tumor spread and growth due to different genetic information. Thus, precision therapy is based on genetic information of patients, and it’s a cancer treatment that is tailored to each patient.

Kinase inhibitors are used for the adoption of precision therapy based on genomic data to individualize cancer treatments. Kinases, the enzymes these inhibitors aim to block, are involved in metabolism, cell division, and cell signaling within the body. When certain kinases are too active, they cause cancers to develop in the cell. By blocking kinases, kinase inhibitors may slow the growth of tumors.

On January 9, 2020, Blueprint Medicines received approval from the Food and Drug Administration for their precision therapy. The medication, called avapritinib, was sold under the brand name Ayvakit. Avapritinib was developed for patients who are suffering from gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST), which spreads from the primary source and cannot be cured with surgery. Specifically, GIST tumors feature a specific mutation that can be targeted by a kinase inhibitor. To treat GIST caused by a specific genetic mutation, Ayvakit targets and blocks a particular kinase.

On September 22, 2020, Blueprint Medicines also announced that it is seeking to treat advanced systemic mastocytosis (SM) with Ayvakit. SM is a rare disease caused by the uncontrolled growth and spread of mast cells, a type of white blood cell that accumulates in high quantities in advanced SM. This disease induces deterioration of organs, fatigue, brain fogging, and more. Similar to GIST, advanced SM is also caused by a specific genetic mutation. Unfortunately, there are no therapies that are confirmed to cure this disease at the moment.

Of course, there is always more research being conducted, but it is certain that Blueprint Medicines is paving the way towards a deeper understanding of genomically defined cancers and treating them with a unique and targeted approach. With time, the development of therapies like these could revolutionize cancer treatments and save countless lives.


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