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Max Nisen

Blockbuster Drugs? How About Doing More With What We've Got

A breast-cancer study's findings offer takeaways about best practices for shaping the direction of medicine.

Research shows that we can teach old drugs new tricks.

Research shows that we can teach old drugs new tricks.

Photographer: Tim Boyle/Bloomberg

When it comes to innovation in health care, it's easy to focus on potential blockbuster drugs that hold the promise of flashy cures with billion-dollar sales potential. But a growing crop of research suggests there are also gains to be made by better using drugs we already have.

Case in point is a study published earlier this month in the New England Journal of Medicine, which found that women who have breast cancer with certain genetic characteristics can take hormone therapy alone  and avoid chemotherapy. The findings are encouraging, and not just because of the positive impact they will have on patients who may be able to bypass the toxic side effects of chemo. They also offer broader takeaways about best practices for shaping the direction of medicine.