Personalized Medicine Community Gathers in Boston for the Ninth Year to Share Insights and Innovation from the Field

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Personalized Medicine was an emerging field of medicine in 2005 when we first held what was to become an annual event, our personalized medicine conference. The importance of personalized medicine was given a boost by the then U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Michael Leavitt, who said in January 2005, “I believe we are moving into a remarkable and powerful new era in medicine and particularly in prescription drugs.  I’d refer to it as an era of personalized medicine.” Since then many different names have been given to this approach to medicine. They include “Precision Medicine”, “Genomic Medicine”, “Genetic Medicine”, “Individualized Medicine”, and “P4 Medicine” to name a few.

This year, we gear up for our 9th Annual Personalized Medicine Conference on November 6th and 7th, in Boston, arguments can be made about what name adequately describes the enterprise in which genetic and genomic information informs us about a person’s risk for human disease; about a clear diagnosis on which treatments depend; about prognosis for a disease such as cancer; about genetic variants in an individual patient that may determine that person’s ability to metabolize a particular chemical entity; about genetic and genomic changes that might inform physicians about the appropriate therapeutic approach; and about many other aspects of health and medicine where genetics may play a role. Some people in the scientific community contend that the use of such a diversity of names for the same enterprise is natural and reflects the evolution of the field. What we cannot ignore is the direction that the science is leading us – toward precision diagnosis and treatment of disease at the molecular level.

As I reflect on the past nine years, some aspects of personalized medicine have changed rapidly and others are relatively unchanged. One of the biggest and most exciting changes involves the growing commitment of drug developers to the development of targeted therapies. At the beginning of the 21st century, there were only a few drugs that could be considered “targeted” therapies. Now, in cancer, for example, the development of such targeted therapies is becoming the norm because many of these drugs have few adverse effects and the response rates of patients, whose tumors have the molecular target for the drugs, are very high compared to other non-targeted therapies. We can find similar “personalized” approaches to treatment in the areas of infectious disease, cardiovascular disease and other areas.

Today, much of personalized medicine is fueled by new technologies related to DNA and RNA sequencing. It has been estimated that the cost of sequencing has dropped by a factor of 100 from the beginning of this century. The amount of DNA or RNA required to sequence whole genomes has also been reduced by orders of magnitude and there are now technologies in development that promise to sequence single molecules of DNA in a matter of few hours. As the technologies improve and associated costs decline, the benefits of genome sequencing become more apparent. It is easy to imagine a not-too-distant future when people around the world have their genome sequenced as part of the standard of care. Despite present concerns about the cost to analyze all of these genomic data, I am certain that newer algorithms will enable us to automate much of the analytical and interpretive processes to propel us toward a new level of understanding regarding the prevention and treatment of disease.

As the science evolves and entrepreneurs continue to innovate, we are faced with new challenges.

Open and informed discussions about issues related to personalized medicine are critical for better understanding of the successes, failures and promises of this relatively young medical enterprise. Our Conference in Boston provides one such forum and we hope that you will be able to join us.

The future of medicine is before us.

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Harvard Medical School, Harvard Business School and the Partners HealthCare System in Boston will convene the 9th Annual Personalized Medicine Conference on the campus of Harvard Medical School this November 6 and 7. As has been the practice since the Conference’s inception, this year’s meeting is in association with the Personalized Medicine Coalition (PMC). For the first time, we also welcome the participation of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), a member driven organization that has been dedicated for more than a hundred years to promoting cancer research and cancer care, as a co-convener.

For more information and to register for the 9th Annual Personalized Medicine Conference, please visit www.personalizedmedicineconference.org.

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