Internet giant Google announced last week that it will cover the cost of genetic tumor profiling for their employees (and their family members) who develop cancer. This type of genetic testing for cancer treatment, often called precision or personalized medicine, involves analyzing a tumor for genetic alterations that will guide the most effective treatment strategies for that tumor. For example: if a patient with non-small cell lung cancer has a tumor with a mutation in the EGFR gene, that tumor will likely respond to drugs called EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitors (EGFR TKIs) that cost $2-3,000/month. If that patient’s tumor instead has an ALK-fusion mutation, that tumor will likely not respond to EGFR TKIs, but will instead respond to drugs like ALK tyrosine kinase inhibitors (ALK TKIs) that cost $~10,000/month. Tumor profiling guides the practice of oncology away from the cookie-cutter approach of treating every cancer patient with drug A, waiting to see if he responds, and if not, then treating the patient with drug B.
This relatively new approach is not yet covered by all insurance companies for all cancers because, of the hundreds of mutations tested, only a few dozen are ‘actionable’ at this point — meaning, that clinicians can tailor treatment based on those findings. However, we’re unraveling the meaning of more and more mutations at a rapid pace. As this information become available, precision medicine will become a reality for more and more cancers.
Why would Google invest in this additional testing that ranges in price from $5-8000, depending on the laboratory and testing used? Well, it’s smart medicine and well-informed consumers want it. Benefits packages, such as this, may help attract and retain cream-of-the-crop employees in competitive marketplaces. And, most importantly, companies like Google realize that their employees are their most valuable assets. When those prized employees (or their family members,) are diagnosed with cancer, facilitating the most effective treatment to get them back to their lives is a win-win for the patient and the company. That is a smart business move.