The precision medicine (PM) initiative is a response to the dismal outlook in solid cancer. Despite heterogeneity, common mechanistic denominators may exist across the spectrum of solid cancer. A shift from conventional research and development (R&D) toward PM will require conceptual and structural change. As individuals and as a society, we welcome innovation, but question change. We ask: In solid cancer, does PM identify and address the causes of prior failures, and, if so, are the proposed solutions feasible? And, when may we expect safer, more effective and affordable drugs in the clinic? Considerations that prompt a pragmatic rethink include a failure analysis of translational R&D in solid cancer suggesting that trials and regulations need to be aligned with the natural history of the disease. In successful therapeutic interventions in chronic, complex disease, surrogate markers and endpoints should be consistent with the Prentice's criteria. In solid cancer, drug induced tumor shrinkage, is a drug effect and not a disease response; tumor shrinkage does not reflect nor predict interruption of the disease. Overall, we support a pragmatic, multidisciplinary, and collaborative R&D, and suggest that direction be set by clinical need and utility, and by questions, not answers. PM will prove worthwhile if it could improve clinical outcomes. The lag in therapeutics relative to diagnostics is a cause for confusion. Overdiagnosis adds to fear and harm, especially in the absence of effective interventions. A revised initiative that prioritizes metastasis research could replicate the successful HIV/AIDS model in solid cancer. A pragmatic approach may further translational efforts toward meaningfully effective, generally available, and affordable solutions.
Keywords: 21st Century Cures Act; Paul Ehrlich; RECIST; metastasis; pragmatism; precision medicine; solid cancer; translation.