Last week, an op-ed was published in the New York Times that asked an important question: Are patients being misled by the promise of precision medicine? The article, which focused on the treatment of various forms of cancer, posited that the successes achieved through precision medicine are relatively few when compared to its failures¹.
Precision medicine is a term that has been trending for several years (just try googling it). Previously, the healthcare industry had tried other avenues to produce better outcomes at lower costs. While the hype around what precision medicine can achieve for patients may be at an all-time high, the ability to deliver personalized care has never been more promising.
Making significant strides in precision medicine
Since President Obama launched his Precision Medicine Initiative in 2015, there has been significant investment in precision medicine. Providers, researchers and biopharma companies are finding new ways to leverage genetic data to help patients avoid disease by providing precise and effective treatments.
The increased availability of patient data from a variety of sources, the dramatic increase in available computing power, and new powerful technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) is spurring the creation of meaningful precision medicine initiatives across the industry. These exciting developments are helping to make progress in the effectiveness of precision medicine.
In particular, biopharma companies have nearly doubled their investment in personalized medicine since 2012 according to Forbes². MarketWatch reports that the precision medicine market, particularly in the areas of oncology, cardiovascular and infectious disease treatment and diagnostics, could exceed $149 billion by 2020³. Biopharma companies are leveraging precision medicine to streamline drug development and the clinical trial process by more precisely identifying patient cohorts. This will shorten the time needed for trials, lower costs and accelerate the delivery of important new therapies to patients who need them.
Precision Medicine also provides the opportunity to gather richer, more diverse, data through digital health and AI technology. This enables greater discoveries through causal machine learning that can help uncover the underlying causal relationships and mechanisms of action which can lead to more effective treatments and matching the best treatment or intervention to an individual patient.
While the hope of precision medicine is real, it’s important to cut through the hype and examine where real progress is being made on several fronts. GNS is working with a number of organizations across the industry to make sense of all of this diverse data and deliver impactful results using a powerful form of AI, causal machine learning.
Oncology is certainly a focus area for precision medicine, especially given the launch of the Cancer Moonshot Initiative and the on-going development of innovative therapies like immunotherapy and CAR T-cells. GNS is contributing to precision medicine in this area through partnerships with the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology that resulted in discovering the role that tumor location plays as a driver of overall survival in patients with metastatic colorectal cancer. Also recently, a joint effort with the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation resulted in the discovery of a biomarker that identifies which MM patients are likely to benefit from stem cell transplantation.
Another area where causal machine learning can impact precision medicine is in disorders of the Central Nervous System (CNS), which are difficult to develop therapeutics for because the underlying biology is so complex and still a mystery. GNS leveraged data from the Michael J. Fox Foundation PPMI dataset to discover genetic and molecular markers of faster motor progression of the disease which has the potential to accelerate the clinical trial process and the development of effective drugs for Parkinson patients.
GNS is also pursuing precision medicine initiatives including partnerships in ALS, proteomics research, and Huntington’s Disease, all of which have the potential to lead to a better understanding of diseases and the advancement of new treatments.
There is no doubt that there are ongoing challenges to achieving the promise of precision medicine. Human biology and disease is complex, and our understanding continues to evolve. There are environmental and genetic triggers to disease on an individual level.
But there are great strides being made. Biopharma companies seem to be leading the way in leveraging the power of precision medicine, but physicians, hospitals and health plans are beginning to get involved as well, recognizing the potential impact on patient’s health and lives. Further success depends on a critical shift in mind set, an increased level of trust and adoption of these innovative approaches, and increased collaboration among all stakeholders.
The Times article is right. We have a ways to go before the practice of precision medicine is as impactful as we would like, which can be frustrating, especially for patients who are facing health challenges today and searching for solutions. However, it doesn’t mean that discussions around precision medicine are misleading. We are on the precipice – matching the right treatment to the right patient at the right time will soon be a reality – which is why we are excited for what’s to come.
Are We Being Misled About Precision Medicine, Liz Szabo, The New York Times, September 11, 2018.
 Drug Industry Bets Big On Precision Medicine: Five Trends Shaping Care Delivery, by Reenita Das, Forbes, March 8, 2017.
 Personalized Medicine Market Worth $149+ Billion by 2020 Covering Companion Diagnostic and Targeted Therapeutics, MarketWatch, February 9, 2016.