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March 18, 2015

How Precision Medicine is Transforming Life Sciences

Posted by Subhro Mallik (View Profile | View All Posts) at 9:36 AM

Cancer patients find hope in precision medicine [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxING9lzVaY]

We live in an age when personalized digital assistants know more about our lives and our daily schedules than we do. So wouldn't it stand to reason that we should be able to receive personalized pharmaceuticals as well?

The medical field I'm talking about, also known as precision medicine, is radically altering the life sciences industry. Recently, the American president called for his country's lawmakers to allocate $215 million toward what he's calling the "precision medicine initiative." The background behind this ambitious project is that every patient is different (we kind of knew that). But what pharmaceutical and biotech companies are making great strides in is knowing the exact genetic make-up of an individual - from that person's genes to the microbes living in her body and certain environmental factors as well (suppose he/she's a pack-a-day smoker).

The promise of precision medicine, said President Obama is "delivering the right treatment at the right time, every time, to the right person." If it sounds complicated, you better believe it is. And $215 million from the government is, in the grand scheme of things, enough to scratch the surface of this new scientific field. But the promises are quite alluring, especially to life sciences enterprises that can tailor prescription drugs to patients one pill at a time when they learn about a person's specific (and unique) medical information.

Some institutions are already embracing precision medicine. For example, when someone is diagnosed with cancer, the next step is to undergo molecular and genetic testing. Doing so lets doctors pick which drug is most appropriate for which cancer patient. This development has huge ramifications for the pharmaceuticals industry. Imagine, if you will, a prescription being sent to a drug-maker that custom-manufactures a drug on the spot. Then that one-of-a-kind prescription is dispensed just as rapidly.

What's making all of these exciting developments possible is that the cost of genetic testing and sequencing the human genome has dropped significantly during the past couple years. As such, the ability to tailor medicines and dosages (and even blood transfusions) to the individual patient on a case-by-case basis is quickly becoming a reality. Soon, when a doctor chooses a cancer treatment for a patient, it will involve determining that person's genetic code so that pharmaceutical companies and biotech firms can formulate custom (or, better yet, precision) made products.

Even though the costs to do so will initially be very high, think about precision medicine as a way to pinpoint treatments and get better and quicker recoveries. That's because scientists now know that tumors have their own molecular signatures. Physicians don't need to make a patient undergo as many tests because they can very efficiently determine the type of cancer and, by extension, devise a plan to treat it with precision drugs.

In any industry - including the life sciences - pinpointing a solution to a problem in order to solve it more quickly and resolutely is, in the long run, a cost-saving move. So I imagine the cost of precision medicine to pay for itself once cancer patients and the like begin to see miraculous recoveries because of the customized products from the world of pharma and biotech. And let's not forget that all of these future treatments will be enabled by greater computing power. The software that will be needed to dole out precision medical treatments is only now just beginning.

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