It always surprises me that when attending industry conferences, the discussions inevitably revolve around “the future” of artificial intelligence, machine learning and personalized medicine. My reaction? These innovations and practices aren’t impending, they’re already here.
This point was never more apparent than at the 14th Annual Personalized Medicine Conference (PMC) I attended at Harvard Medical School in Boston earlier this month. The theme was “Preparing for the New Possible” and many of the panels offered concrete evidence of AI and precision medicine in action today. Here are just a few examples of the ways in which the power of precision medicine is impacting healthcare - not in some far-off future, but in the here and now.
Accelerating drug development
By now everyone is well aware that it takes billions of dollars and decades to bring a drug to market. AI and machine learning are already helping to significantly accelerate the process that brings vital therapies to patients who need them.
Researchers are leveraging AI and personalized medicine in adaptive in silico clinical trials to dramatically change the drug discovery landscape. Machine learning can facilitate adaptive trials by conducting innumerable complex simulations and continually incorporating new data as it becomes available. This results in updated conclusions about treatment effectiveness. In silico trials enable researchers to explore disease and drug mechanisms, identify subpopulations and evaluate patient responses all completely within a computer environment.
One participant on the panel, moderated by GNS CEO Colin Hill, “Automating Actionable: How Artificial Intelligence May Chart a Course for Personalized Medicine,” confidently predicted that there will be a new drug discovered, developed and brought to market within the next five years completely AI driven. Using AI, researchers are on track to leverage data we have today to identify disease models and discover care pathways to successfully take a drug from target discovery, through development, launch, approval and access and have it on the market in less than half the time and expense of the traditional clinical trial process.
Enabling value-based care
Focus on costs leads almost every discussion when it comes to healthcare. The panel, “Considering Costs: Evaluating Emerging Pharmaceutical and Insurance Industry Business Models in Personalized Medicine,” explored this topic and discussed how the pharmaceutical and health plan industries are using AI and precision medicine to think about care spending not as a cost, but as an investment. Instead of just treating illness reactively, AI and machine learning are helping to drive a paradigm shift toward predicting and preventing the onset and progression of disease. Instead of absorbing costs to treat patients, AI and precision medicine allows pharma and health plans to make investments that offer patients the best chance to stay healthy and reduce costs in the long term.
Identifying patients at risk for development of a disease and uncovering the individual biology that is driving disease progression lets clinicians match them to the right intervention. The result is providing the patient with the best outcome at the lowest total cost of care. This is the core focus of AI and precision medicine and it is already contributing toward the goal of a more cost-effective healthcare system. Viewing the expense of drugs and other healthcare resources as investments rather than costs changes the mindset and ultimately results in an ROI of better care outcomes at affordable costs.
Driving alternative care pathways
Traditional healthcare often focuses on population health and developing treatments for the average patient. But none of us is average and this is the driving force behind the shift to precision medicine. With the vast amount of diverse data now available, including genomic sequencing, healthcare providers can match the right treatment to a given patient based on their individual biology.
The panel, “Evaluating Patients’ Priorities: Understanding Perspectives on Personalized Medicine – A Fireside Chat,” focused on the story of two people- one suffering from prostate cancer and the other from cystic fibrosis. They both went through a rules-based standard of care with no positive response. They both then discussed options with their physicians and found that their providers were willing to personalize their treatments based on their genomic sequencing. As a result, they were put on a different treatment regimen and both their quality of life and health has improved.
These real-world examples of precision medicine happening today proves it is possible to treat patients versus populations. It also shows the value of having one’s genome sequenced and the impact it can have on an individual’s healthcare. At some point in the near future, genome sequencing will be an affordable requirement, not an expensive option, because the type of care you receive will be determined by your genetics.
The debate of “hope vs. hype” over AI in precision medicine and healthcare took center stage at almost every major conference in 2018. But the key takeaway from the Personalized Medicine Conference this year is that AI and precision medicine are no longer a theory or promise for the future of healthcare. Leading biopharma and healthcare organizations are already using AI to deliver precision medicine and continue to find new ways to leverage it to improve care. My wish for 2019 (and beyond) is that we embrace the possible, share successes and build strategy around leveraging the available tools. Our individual and collective health depends on it.