As one indication of the breakneck speed of technological development, it’s instructive to look at the incredible reduction in costs of sequencing human genomes. In 2003, the year that the first complete individual human genome was sequenced, the cost to do so was over $100,000,000. Fast forward 14 years, and the cost of sequencing all of an individual’s genes is a relatively paltry $5,000. This is a quantum leap forward in the accessibility of gene sequencing.
But one man, Eric Lefkofsky, believes that not only will gene sequencing play a star role in future cancer research and treatment but that the cost of sequencing individual genomes will continue to plummet, possibly reaching less than $100 in the next decade. At these price levels, essentially every American’s genome could be easily and cheaply sequenced, leading to an explosion in potentially invaluable data that may lead cancer research to the point of finding a virtual cure.
While Lefkofsky is highly optimistic about the development of cheap gene sequencing and the likely impact that it will have on cancer research and treatment, he still urges caution about the expectations of exactly what such a wealth of new information will likely bring. Lefkofsky says that it is still not hugely likely that a universal cure will be found for all types of cancers. They are simply too heterogeneous, with some cancer types being notoriously resistant to treatment.
Instead, Lefkofsky envisions the coming decades bringing better and better treatments for certain subtypes of cancer. For example, cancers that already have solidly performing, well established treatment regimens, such as breast cancer or prostate cancer, may see additional advances that will all but constitute an actual cure. With others, Lefkofksy believes, treatments may advance to the point where having the disease is similar to those in advanced countries living with AIDS. These cancers will still be a serious disease, but with closely following their treatment regimen, those living with these cancers may be able to effectively survive indefinitely, dying from an unrelated cause.
Lefkofsky says that, while these outcomes would not technically amount to a cure, they are exciting enough to motivate an entire generation of research.