2017 Trends: Precision Medicine

The idea of making healthcare more personal is on the rise, and the ultimate personalization of healthcare is precision medicine.

Precision medicine is a dramatic shift from a “one-size-fits-all” approach to treatment based on the uniqueness of each person. And when we say unique, we don’t mean some people like their coffee black and some people like theirs with a little cream and sugar, we mean down to your DNA – your genetic makeup kind of unique. The promise of precision medicine is that every tiny difference creates an opportunity for a perfectly tailored treatment.

It sounds amazing. And yet, we have a long way to go until sequencing becomes mainstream.

The industry has made major progress in dramatically reducing sequencing costs, which has moved precision medicine from a future state to a potential “norm” in medical treatment in the near future. Yet, while the sequencing costs are now relatively low, the practical application of that sequencing information requires significant advancement in everything from diagnosis, to research, to treatment, and of course, payment.

Like nearly all aspects of healthcare, reaching the full potential of precision medicine will require collaboration among multiple players and a shift in current thinking:

  • Providers and those that train them must overcome the fear of novel tests and treatments to routinely incorporate genomics into their practice and teaching.
  • Patients must be educated and inspired to act.
  • Researchers must be able to collaborate by sharing information that could lead to breakthroughs.
  • Pharmaceutical companies must be able to deliver drugs based on genetic information.
  • Payers must pay providers for accurate diagnoses and effective treatments through precision medicine.
  • Regulators must be willing to fast-track approvals for treatments and drugs that show success and promise.

And of course, one more small detail: this all has to be done while securely sharing massive amounts of data and protecting patient privacy. And you know we can’t write anything in healthcare without mentioning the “I” word – interoperability of systems is essential for sharing this data.

So, you can see the task ahead is no small undertaking. Before I am accused of focusing on the “half empty” part of the glass, let’s see why the glass is really “half full” – with the potential to be overflowing. The promise of precision medicine is not only inspiring for patients; it also represents a real opportunity for forward-thinking organizations.

Imagine a scenario where an oncologist can access a database of thousands of cancer patients to see if there are genomic matches to his or her particular patient. When a match is made, the oncologist can view a treatment plan tailored to the specific genetic abnormalities of a tumor. Diagnosing and treating a disease according to each individual’s unique genetic makeup will enable faster, more personalized care that improves outcomes and reduces costs.

That scenario highlights what happens when a patient actually has a disease. There is also a wealth of information to unlock through genetic sequencing about how to prevent disease. Again by matching genetic makeup, providers can develop specific recommendations to target a very unique set of genetic challenges. It is the ultimate in population health – looking at the tiniest pieces that make us who we are and using the information to keep us at our best.

What happens between today’s reality and tomorrow’s promise? There remains a big question of who is going to lead these efforts. In 2015, President Obama launched the Precision Medicine Initiative, a $215 million collaboration among the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. But it is more likely that private industry will need to lead the precision medicine efforts to achieve widespread adoption and help technology companies see the opportunity.

With data as a key driver in the precision medicine movement, a technology company is a logical convener of the key players. Already, there are partnerships forming like Intel’s Collaborative Cancer Cloud and IBM Watson’s work with U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs and other providers  to gather and analyze genomic data.

At ReviveHealth, we see precision medicine as yet another example of how consumers are going to approach healthcare in the same way they approach so many other aspects of their life. As Scientific American put it in “The Paradox of Precision Medicine”:

Personalized medicine could work like Netflix and Amazon. They know every book and movie you have bought in the past few years, and armed with that information, they can predict what you are likely to purchase next. If your doctors had that kind of information at their fingertips – not about your purchase history but about how you live, where you work, what your genetic predispositions are, and which microbes are populating your skin and gut –then maybe cures would finally come like movie recommendations do.

The consumerization of healthcare is one of several factors that is going to push the industry toward personalized medicine. In 2017, we think leaders in these efforts will continue to emerge and drive the collaboration needed across the industry to make personalized medicine a new standard of care.

October 20, 2016
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