Informing materials: drugs as tools for exploring cancer mechanisms and pathways

Etienne Vignola-Gagné, Peter Keating, Alberto Cambrosio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


This paper builds on previous work that investigated anticancer drugs as ‘informed materials’, i.e., substances that undergo an informational enrichment that situates them in a dense relational web of qualifications and measurements generated by clinical experiments and clinical trials. The paper analyzes the recent transformation of anticancer drugs from ‘informed’ to ‘informing material’. Briefly put: in the post-genomic era, anti-cancer drugs have become instruments for the production of new biological, pathological, and therapeutic insights into the underlying etiology and evolution of cancer. Genomic platforms characterize individual patients’ tumors based on their mutational landscapes. As part of this new approach, drugs targeting specific mutations transcend informational enrichment to become tools for informing (and destabilizing) their targets, while also problematizing the very notion of a ‘target’. In other words, they have become tools for the exploration of cancer pathways and mechanisms. While several studies in the philosophy and history of biomedicine have called attention to the heuristic relevance and experimental use of drugs, few have investigated concrete instances of this role of drugs in clinical research.

Original languageEnglish
Article number10
JournalHistory and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Anti-cancer drugs
  • Cancer genomics
  • Clinical research
  • Next-generation sequencing
  • Oncology
  • Targeted therapies


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