The ‘molecularly unstratified’ patient: a focus for moral, psycho-social and societal research
Hordern JWS., Maughan T., Feiler T., Morrell L., Horne R., Sullivan R.
The biomedical paradigm of personalised precision medicine – identification of specific molecular targets for treatment of an individual patient – offers great potential for treatment of many diseases including cancer. This article provides a critical analysis of the promise, the hype and the pitfalls attending this approach. In particular, we focus on ‘molecularly unstratified’ patients – those who, for various reasons, are not eligible for a targeted therapy. For these patients, hope-laden therapeutic options are closed down, leaving them left out, and left behind, bobbing untidily about in the wake of technological and scientific ‘advance’. This process creates a distinction between groups of patients on the basis of biomarkers and challenges our ability to provide equitable access to care for all patients. In broadening our consideration of these patients to include the research ecosystem that shapes their experience, we hypothesise that the combination of immense promise with significant complexity creates particular individual and organisational challenges for researchers. The novelty and complexity of their research consumes high levels of resource, possibly in parallel with undervaluing other ‘low hanging fruit’, and may be challenging current regulatory thinking. We outline future research to consider the societal, psycho-social and moral issues relating to ‘molecularly unstratified’ patients, and the impact of the drive towards personalisation on the research, funding, and regulatory ecosystem.