Merck got an unusual approval at the FDA recently, for its Keytruda antibody in oncology. What’s new about it is that it is the first approval that’s based on the molecular biology of the tumors rather than their location. Keytruda is now approved for high microsatellite instability and/or mismatch repair deficient tumors, no matter where such a phenotype might occur.
We’re used to referring to cancer with a body part signifier, because that’s been the most natural classification, but no longer. Eventually, I wonder if there will be acronyms for the various biomarker/molecular biology approvals that might come into general use. Will people refer to a diagnosis of “MIMR” cancer, say, and will calling it by a body part come to sound old-fashioned?
Biology, chemistry, and physics make their way into the popular consciousness in unpredictable ways. I’m not sure if people could have predicted the way that DNA has made itself a visual and verbal shorthand, for example – but I wonder when the first big example was of the double helix as a graphic design element? Chemistry hasn’t had quite as many inroads into the general vocabulary, other than people having good or bad chemistry themselves, but medical acronyms get picked up pretty broadly. I would not be surprised if the way that we talk about cancer has just started to change, as of this week.