Archive for the ‘Diagnostics’ Category

BREAKING NEWS: FDA Notifies Congress of its Intent to Publish Framework for Regulatory Oversight of Laboratory Developed Tests (LDTs)

July 31, 2014

Summers in D.C. are notoriously slow. FDA, however, has added excitement to this summer by informing Congress of its intent to publish a long-awaited framework for LDT regulation.

In its notice to Congress, FDA included what appears to be a draft of the document. After the mandatory 60-day Congressional review, the draft guidance document will be formally issued for public comment.

Within the draft framework, FDA proposes a risk-based, phased system of oversight. They recognize community concerns around access and do not intend to interrupt the marketing and sale of currently available tests. Furthermore, FDA expresses the intent to continue using enforcement discretion for forensic and organ transplantation uses, traditional LDTs, and LDTs for unmet needs.

The document outlines the history of LDT regulation, FDA’s policy of enforcement discretion, and how personalized medicine has caused FDA to reconsider that policy.

We will continue to provide updates on the development of framework for regulatory oversight of LDTs, with additional in-depth commentary next week on this issue and the related news of FDA’s final guidance on companion diagnostics.

For additional information on the current regulation of LDTs, please read PMC’s report “Pathways for Oversight of Diagnostics.”

Key SGR Fix Brings Relief to Diagnostics Industry

April 8, 2014

On April 1, the diagnostics industry let out a collective sigh of relief as President Obama signed into law HR 4302. Officially known as the Protecting Access to Medicare Act of 2014, many refer to the law as “Doc Fix” or “SGR fix”, focusing on the delay, yet again, of the 24 percent physician pay cut as a part of Medicare’s sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula.

However, my attention, along with that of the diagnostics industry, focused on the provisions in the law that protect clinical diagnostics from unpredictable repricing (subscription required) under the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Clinical Lab Fee Schedule (CLFS).

The passage of this law showcases the need and value of the industry to unite in highlighting policies that, though unintended, challenge innovators by creating an uncertain reimbursement environment. Predictable reimbursement policies encourage exploration and innovation within the diagnostics community, improving health care through advances in diagnosis and beyond.

This law acknowledges the transformative scientific advancements the industry has achieved in recent years, catching our policies up with our technologies.

Many questions remain as we look at the implementation of this law, and as such we remain committed to convening the personalized medicine community to work in collaboration with CMS.

New Approaches for Practical Challenges in Personalized Medicine

January 27, 2014

When I received the invitation to speak at the Personalized Medicine World Conference (PWMC), I was excited. When I saw the program and faculty, I was honored. When I received my “assignment,” I was intimidated. To share the podium with many of the luminaries in the field of genomics — even to hear them speak — is tremendously exciting. In contrast, how can they really be interested in hearing me speak on the real-world challenges providers and payers face in bringing genomics advances from bench to bedside more quickly?  I cannot answer this question. Although based solely on the number of conferences to which I am invited on this topic, someone must care. They should. Making the science “work” is only the first step in moving from bench to bedside.

As I was preparing my talk, I reflected on the story Sid Mukherjee, M.D., Ph.D., tells in his fabulous book, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. I’m not usually a big non-fiction fan, but if you are involved in cancer care in any way, this is a must read. Perhaps the book resonated because my professional career spanned many of the seminal events described in the book. That, and I share Dr. Mukherjee’s general perspective on the challenges of making meaningful advances in cancer treatment. The bottom line: cancer is tough. Just when we think we’ve made some great progress, it teaches us humility. Still, it is impossible not to be excited and enthusiastic about how far we have come in our understanding of the genetics of cancer. I really think we are experiencing a sea change. We must begin to think about navigating these changing currents in the world of health care reform in order to take best advantage of that progress.

So what are the practical challenges? There are many. And many share the underlying theme that the old paradigms do not work so well. Traditional methods of quality control in test performance, i.e. analytical validity, are a big problem. Proficiency testing and standards do not currently exist. To be honest, most doctors do not think about them when ordering a test. The billing and coding of molecular tests have been undergoing dramatic evolution but is still not suited to multi-analyte assays. Perhaps the biggest challenges lie in the area of clinical utility, which impacts providers, payers and regulatory agencies. Patients are impacted in a huge way. Most people have an idea of where we need to go, but we have a shortage of ideas about how to get there. Finally, all of this occurs in the setting of unsustainable growth in health care spending, and the near uniform agreement that we need to spend our money in a more intelligent, impactful way.

We have a lot of work to do together. It is important to remember we are all on the same side. We have a chance to make a huge difference, but we need to do it right.

What do you think our greatest challenges and opportunities are today? I look forward to the discussion in California.

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Read additional posts from speakers and participants of the 6th Annual Personalized Medicine World Conference on January 27-28, 2014. For more information and the full agenda, visit: 2014sv.pmwcintl.com.

A Look at the Regulation of Diagnostics

January 24, 2014

Participants at the upcoming Personalized Medicine World Conference 2014 (PMWC) will be engaging in thoughtful debate and discussion on some of the biggest topics in the field of personalized medicine. I anticipate a lively discussion with Andrew Fish, Executive Director of AdvaMedDx on the topic of regulatory issues in molecular diagnostics.

The regulation of diagnostic products is one of the most contentious issues within the personalized medicine community today. Regulatory issues have led to confusion and uncertainty in the industry due to the involvement of multiple agencies with varying standards. Consensus on solutions among kit manufactures and laboratory developed test companies has been hard to come by.

At the Personalized Medicine Coalition (PMC), we have heard from some who would prefer that the status quo is maintained; however, PMC contends that the status quo is not an option. While our members may not agree upon the exact course of action, it is time to acknowledge that action is needed to build a consensus around the development of an efficient, cost-effective process for bringing safe, high quality diagnostic tests to market in which patients, physicians, and payers can have confidence.

To initiate this process, PMC published Personalized Medicine Regulation: Pathways for Oversight of Diagnostics. The paper established baseline knowledge of the status of diagnostic regulation, and set the groundwork for future collaboration among industry, government, and other organizations.

To learn more about this important issue, with a look at the complex and diverse perspectives from key stakeholders, as well as to explore potential solutions, join me on January 28 at the PMWC 2014. Our discussion will look at areas of agreement and disagreement regarding the regulation of molecular diagnostics and likely scenarios for the future.

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 Look for additional posts from speakers and participants prior to the 6th Annual Personalized Medicine World Conference on January 27-28, 2014. For more information and the full agenda, visit: 2014sv.pmwcintl.com.

Ten Years into Personalized Medicine: What We’ve Learned and What’s Next

January 15, 2014

Ten years ago, the sequencing of the entire human genome, along with the development of aggregate “omics” technologies began giving rise to a fundamentally new capability for the practice of medicine – the ability to predict and track disease risks on a personalized basis, to understand diseases mechanistically, and to target therapy to treat an individual’s specific disease.

Based on the potential impact of these technologies, I predicted in my 2002 Chairman’s address to the Association of American Medical Colleges, that medicine would be transformed from being disease-focused and reactive to being proactive and personalized. I believed that the “one-size-fits-all” approach to disease care was outmoded and would soon be replaced by one that would prevent and treat disease on a personalized basis.

Since its inception ten years ago, many of those predictions have been realized; personalized medicine has begun to have major impacts on components of medical practice and has engendered health care industries estimated to grow to $450 billion by 2015 with $42 billion related to drugs, devices, and diagnostics. Molecular diagnostics have gained traction in cardiology, rheumatology, transplantation, endocrinology, and, in particular, oncology. Targeted therapies have revolutionized cancer therapy and whole genome sequencing is providing insights into baseline health risks and understanding of some diseases. However, while the use of personalized medicine tools to treat disease is gaining traction, the transformation of medical practice to being proactive, strategic, and personalized; i.e., personalized health care, has been slow to develop.

There is, however, evidence that this movement is gaining momentum and with increases in health care consumerism, a more predictable regulatory environment, and changes in medical reimbursement to reward better outcomes, the adoption of personalized health care is inevitable. Personalized medicine will go beyond the use of technologies to individualize disease care to finally transforming the approach to care itself by enabling individuals and care providers to foster proactive, personalized care. In turn, the clinical adoption of proactive, personalized care will broaden the need for personalized medicine technologies thus spurring the growth of this industry.

Appreciating the value of a ten-year review of personalized medicine, the Personalized Medicine World Conference will host, and I will moderate, a panel discussion titled, “Ten Years into Personalized Medicine: What We’ve Learned & What’s Next” on January 27, 2014 in Mountain View, Calif., with luminaries including Kim Popovits of Genomic Health, Randy Scott from InVitae, Brook Byers of KPCB, and Jay Flatley from Illumina, opining on what they initially anticipated, what they’ve learned, and what’s coming next.

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 Look for additional posts from speakers and participants prior to the 6th Annual Personalized Medicine World Conference on January 27-28, 2014. For more information and the full agenda, visit: 2014sv.pmwcintl.com.

2013: A Year of Innovation, Inspiration

December 20, 2013

As we look forward to 2014, we engage in the time-honored tradition of reflecting on the year of activities and progress as we bid 2013 farewell.

For personalized medicine, it was another year with big advances, and big questions. The following captures highlights from The Age of Personalized Medicine Blog for 2013.

We started the year with a call to action from Amy Miller, PMC vice president, public policy, about the power of personalized medicine, the need for “accurate and actionable” data, and for a shift in traditional healthcare models. As Amy noted:

…The power of personalized medicine lies not only in treatment, but prevention. The best scenario for personalized medicine in action will come when patients are able to see not only the implications of their genetic dispositions, but also are motivated and empowered to use that information in preventative care.

In May, personalized medicine took the international spotlight as Angelina Jolie shared with the world her genetic prognosis and personal decision to pursue a course of preventative care. The high-profile case inspired much discussion of the value of personalized medicine, as well as the need for access to diagnostic testing for all:

Ms. Jolie’s contribution demonstrates that without patients who are educated, empowered to get tested and to act, the progress and innovation could be for naught. We need to make sure that patients are knowledgeable enough to pursue personalized options for their own health but also so that they are motivated to support policies that foster continued progress in this area.

Kristin Ciriello Pothier, Diagnostics and Life Science Practice lead at Health Advances, shared key take-aways from the PMC/BIO Solutions Summit panel she moderated on “Evidentiary Standards and Data Requirements for Payer Coverage.”

Ms. Ciriello Pothier examined the challenges facing the personalized medicine diagnostics industry and summarized her panel’s conclusions:

First, panelists agreed that there must be more education for all stakeholders so that each stakeholder can actually evaluate novel products appropriately, a key finding echoed throughout the day. Second, the emphasis on outcomes must shift from only clinical outcomes to clinical outcomes and quality of life for patients. Finally, all panelists agreed the ideal situation is open, trusting lines of communication and split of the responsibility according to expertise.

William Chin, M.D., identified research, collaboration, and innovation as critical components to advancing personalized medicine, while Stephen Eck, M.D., Ph.D., cited the need for funding for basic research, diagnostics testing research, increased healthcare provider education, and reimbursement for diagnostic testing as key.

At the mid-point of 2013, pressures to reduce federal spending elevated the need for policy that will support biomedical research and innovation. PMC responded to these concerns through comments submitted to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) regarding the charge on regional Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) to set new prices for molecular diagnostic test reimbursement through a process called “gapfilling”:

The Personalized Medicine Coalition (PMC) submitted comments to CMS on the Gapfill Payment Amounts and CLFS, iterating the concerns of PMC members that insufficient payment amounts threaten the sustainability of the laboratory industry and continued investment in the developing field of personalized medicine. As a consequence, this policy has the potential to stifle innovation and progress in healthcare and possibly eliminate the potential for lowering overall costs through the elimination of unnecessary and or ineffective treatments.

In 2013, PMC also released a set of policy principles key to advancing personalized medicine in a deficit-reduction environment. Debuted at a Capitol Hill Briefing, these principles lay the groundwork for consensus-building around key issues to ensure that efforts to contain rising healthcare costs do not undermine continued progress in personalized medicine and protect innovation, the physician-patient relationship, patient values, and choice.

The reality of personalized continues to be realized with patient triumph stories bringing new advances in science, technology, and research to life:

The promise of personalized medicine is very real. Personalized medicine is not an abstract concept for the future of medicine. It is here, it is now, and the true promise has been realized in the lives of Kellie and Stephanie, and the precious days, weeks, months, and years they have taken back from their disease.

I encourage you to read more about Kellie and Stephanie, and to draw inspiration from their strength.

At the 9th Annual Personalized Medicine Conference in November, it was an honor to present Kathy Giusti, founder and CEO of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF) with the 2013 Leadership Award. Ms. Giusti’s story of ingenuity in the face of adversity has led to a redefinition of the role of patient advocacy organizations in research:

Clinically, MMRF has funded research and paved the way for FDA approval for six multiple myeloma treatments in 10 years, and doubled the lifespan for many patients. Today in her remarks, Kathy shared that her daughter, who was just one year old when Kathy received her myeloma diagnosis, is now a 19-year-old college student with a younger brother. Incredible results.

2013 was a year of progress and inspiration. We look forward to the new year ahead and personalized medicine advances on the horizon, bringing new treatments and improved outcomes to patients.

Balancing the Need for Guidance, Communications, and Education to Support Innovation in Personalized Medicine Diagnostics

May 13, 2013

Recently, I had the opportunity to moderate a thought-provoking panel at the PMC/BIO Solutions Summit. The summit brought together key stakeholders to discuss solutions to barriers in the development of innovative personalized medicine diagnostics. A big question for those developing potentially game-changing technologies in an increasingly cost conscious environment is the need for “Evidentiary Standards and Data Requirements for Payer Coverage.”

Determining the data requirements for coverage is becoming an increasingly frustrating issue for diagnostics manufacturers, which face rising demands for evidence but continued lack of clarity about payer standards for evidence-based decision-making, leading many to ask the question, “Why can’t payers just tell us what their standards are?” Complicating the picture is that diagnostics can come to market via different pathways with different levels of supporting evidence (e.g., companion diagnostics reviewed by FDA for clinical validity with the companion therapeutic and tests developed, validated, and introduced to the market by laboratories).

The panelists – who represented leaders from industry, non-profit advocacy, and government working to create solutions for some of these market access barriers – noted a couple of issues at play. One is that having a payer “pick list” or hard criteria for coverage removes the flexibility that is so often needed in these gray-area coverage decisions. The second is that given the volume of products they are evaluating, most payers don’t have the bandwidth to be experts in the nuances of the trial design for every technology. Third is that across all stakeholders, there is a wide range of knowledge on innovative products and personalized medicine and that basic education for the majority of stakeholders to better understand these products is lacking.

Several lessons and next steps came out of this discussion. First, panelists agreed that there must be more education for all stakeholders so that each stakeholder can actually evaluate novel products appropriately, a key finding echoed throughout the day. Second, the emphasis on outcomes must shift from only clinical outcomes to clinical outcomes and quality of life for patients. Finally, all panelists agreed the ideal situation is open, trusting lines of communication and split of the responsibility according to expertise.

At the end of the day, it may be incumbent on the molecular diagnostic community to shape the paradigm for evidence requirements so that payers can act as enablers, rather than watchdogs.

Putting the Pieces Together for Personalized Medicine

April 8, 2013

At the Personalized Medicine Coalition, our goal is to open the path to innovation in the science and practice of personalized medicine. “Personalized medicine” is the tailoring of medical treatment to the individual characteristics of each patient. For personalized medicine to work, many pieces must align, including detailed knowledge of the genomics underlying a given disease, effective targeted treatments, and accompanying diagnostic tests to identify the patients who are most likely to benefit.

Those pieces do not line up overnight but, instead, each aspect advances as knowledge builds cumulatively over time. For example, the technology to sequence genes has come a long way in the last 15 years. According to our latest edition of The Case for Personalized Medicine, the cost of sequencing the human genome dropped from $300 million in 2001 to $5,000 in late 2011. This dramatic price drop reflects the evolving science that built over time. Without the initial $1 billion investment to sequence the human genome by public and private partners, this progress would not have been possible.

Likewise, we see the same accumulation of knowledge related to personalized treatments over time. Even within one medicine, our understanding of its potential benefits and indications evolves.

Today, we can sub-classify certain diseases based on genetics: Melanoma can be BRAF positive or non-small cell lung cancer can be EGFR positive or ALK positive. Making these distinctions has led to targeting these gene mutations with specific treatments, leading to improvements in patient outcomes and quality of life. Tomorrow, our scientific knowledge base will continue to grow and is coupled with the technological advances that are enabling the analysis and interpretation of findings like no other time in history.

Increasingly, our expanding knowledge of the role of genetic variation in patient response to treatments will drive continuous learning about the optimal role and value of treatment regimens and diagnostic/treatment combinations. This emerging capability holds great potential to improve patient care and healthcare value, but it is at odds with our conventional approaches to assessing value at a point in time based on broad average study results.

To foster continued progress, the private and public sectors must work together to develop policies that align with scientific advances. We need adequate reimbursement for advanced diagnostics and targeted therapies, and flexible methods to access the value of personalized medicines, rather than one-size-fits-all determinations that don’t take the individual into account. We need policies that recognize the many factors that come into play to make personalized medicine possible, including the research, development, and performance of molecular testing.

At the Personalized Medicine Coalition, we firmly believe that we can and must bring personalized medicine to all patients. Collaboration among the many stakeholders involved will move us closer to this goal.

- A version of this blog originally appeared in The Catalyst series highlighting incremental innovation posted at the PhRMA website.

Randy Scott: Bringing Metcalfe’s Law to Genomic Medicine

December 11, 2012

Each year, the Personalized Medicine Coalition recognizes an individual whose contributions in science, business, and/or policy have helped advance the frontiers of personalized medicine. This year, the Leadership in Personalized Medicine Award was presented to Randy Scott, Ph.D., during the Harvard Personalized Medicine Conference on November 28, 2012 in Boston, Massachusetts. 

Receiving the 2012 Leadership in Personalized Medicine Award from the Personalized Medicine Coalition (PMC), Randy Scott reflected on his success as the founder and former CEO of Genomic Health, but also looked ahead to new opportunities with his latest venture, InVitae Corporation.

Scott received the award this week at the 8th Annual Personalized Medicine Conference at Harvard Medical School. “Randy has transformed our understanding of how medicine can be practiced by creating one of the most successful personalized medicine companies to date,” stated Brook Byers, a partner with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and a previous honoree. Past winners of the PMC Award include Janet Woodcock (FDA), Elizabeth Nabel (NIH), Ralph Synderman (Chancellor Emeritus, Duke University), and Leroy Hood (Institute for Systems Biology).

After a successful stint at Incyte, Scott founded Genomic Health in 2000 and led the firm for nine years, overseeing the development of the Oncotype Dx gene expression test for breast cancer. He modestly shared the credit with numerous colleagues. “My contribution was I probably did a good job of hiring a lot of people at Genomic Health who are way smarter than I was,” he said, naming in particular co-founder Joffre Baker, CMO Steven Shak, and CEO Kim Popovits.

As a graduate student in the early 1980s, Scott said he had been excited about biotech but worried he was too late. “All the exciting genes had been cloned! TPA, Factor VIII, human growth hormone, insulin,” he recalled thinking. Today, Scott said, “we’re on the precipice of incredible accelerating change in this field… Everything we’ve experienced to date pales in comparison to what we’re going to experience in the next 5-10 years.”

But he also shed some personal insight into the launch of his latest venture, InVitae Corporation. He said he is “unabashedly excited” about the future of personalized medicine. “Personalized medicine is really when disease happens to you—your friends or your family. Suddenly it’s no longer just an industry we’re working in but something so personal, so intense, and so emotional. We should never forget that.”

The Network Effect

Scott said reading Intel founder Andy Grove’s book Only the Paranoid Survive in the mid-90s, during his tenure at Incyte racing to identify human genes, was highly influential. In the book, Grove discussed the impact of Moore’s Law on the revolution in computing; Scott saw parallels with the biotech industry. “The way we were sequencing DNA [at the time] was so embarrassingly simple,” he said. Just as computing costs were plummeting, Scott reasoned it was inevitable that sequencing costs would also fall.

Perhaps more importantly was the concept of “the network effect.” Just as Metcalfe’s Law—the community value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of its users—drove change in the computing world, so too will it drive the future of biotechnology.

“Having a really cheap genome sequenced is really not very useful. We still see articles in The New York Times, ten years after the genome project, [saying] ‘so what?’ At some level, they’re horribly wrong, and at some level, they’re horribly right. We’ve not yet seen the network effect or the full implication of Moore’s Law.”

Scott said the community is still “1-2 years away from the inflection point” where the cost of sequencing reaches the point that will trigger “massive consumer demand.” The value of genome sequencing will be most strongly felt in the network effect. “How we connect that genomic information across millions and millions of individuals… Somebody can be sitting at a computer, link into the network, and find how a mutation and how it correlates with their patient and a patient somewhere else in the world.”

Scott said he was also a believer in what he called the “Law of Finite Genomes.” The human genome is like a complex finite puzzle with about 150,000 pieces (20,000 genes and 100,000 non-coding RNAs). “All common diseases are really rare diseases,” Scott said, with cancer a prime example. “Medicine goes from an infinite game to a finite game,” he said. By comparing lots of genomic information, we can begin to rule things out.

Patients, Patients, Patients 

Scott was inspired to launch Genomic Health when a close friend was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1999. For the first time, Scott was personally struck by the chasm between science/technology and medicine. “We’ve got to bridge the gap—bring the science into clinical practice,” he said.

The focus at Genomic Health, Scott said, was “patients, patients, patients.”

“I’m not sure we had a model other than this maniacal focus on patients that wouldn’t be denied,” he said. If we could really do the science right, the science would sell.” Genomic Health spent an enormous effort on clinical studies.

“Clinical data wins over physicians, and it is physicians that win over the payors,” Scott said. “The onus is on us as an industry to build the value proposition [for payors]… so physicians have to adopt those products. If physicians adopt, they will drive payers to cover.”

Scott left Genomic Health this year to launch InVitae, spurred by the impact of rare genetic diseases affecting members of his family.

In 2000, Scott’s nephew had a daughter with galactosemia. Fortunately, the disorder was diagnosed within 48 hours of birth, and her diet could be changed, otherwise there could have been “a dramatically different outcome.” In 2005, an adopted nephew collapsed on a tennis court and died from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Advanced screening could have saved his life, but nobody knew any family history of cardiac disease, he said.

Finally, one of his wife’s relatives had a young son who developed serious seizures at age 2 years. The infant is developmentally impaired and severely autistic. Earlier this year, Scott revealed that exome sequencing of the child and his parents revealed a single de novo point mutation as the putative cause of the disorder. This is unlikely to provide any tangible medical benefit, but “it gives a clue into potential causes of these disorders,” he said.

Ridiculous Goal 

Scott said his goal in launching InVitae was to bring the power of genetics into the real world of clinical practice. “We have a ridiculous goal,” he said. “We want to aggregate all of the world’s genetic tests into a single assay—for less than the cost of a single assay today!”

In other words, InVitae plans to collapse all Mendelian inherited traits into a single assay that can be performed “reproducibly, at high quality and at reasonable cost for the medical system. So instead of going into these diagnostic odysseys… every parent thinking about conceiving a child can know exactly what their carrier status is and what disease risks lie in their family.”

The initial assay will essentially be an elaborate gene panel, but Scott’s plan is eventually that this will lead into whole-genome sequencing (WGS). Scott believes that “within 10-20 years, everyone in any developed health care system will be able to be provided with a low-cost [WGS] analysis at birth… We’ll be talking about managing your genome over the course of your lifetime.”

As for the question of how to deal with the plethora of data, “that’s Metcalfe’s Law, the network effect,” said Scott. “Much of the data won’t be of value to the patient or physician ordering the test. But collectively, they will be massively valuable to the research community.”

We’re big fans of “Free the Data!” said Scott. The universe of clinical genetic data “won’t be a database held by one company or one academic institution, but you’ll see a massive movement over the course of the next decade to make data broadly available within the research community.” This will create a huge disruption in medicine, Scott predicted, a shift from phenotypically driven medicine to more of a genotype foundation as sequencing costs fall and the network builds.

“Everything will drive off the genotype and it will move very fast,” he said. “This is a given. To me, this is the investment thesis. This will be the place to be, the chance to help people suffering from rare diseases. At the end of the day, every disease is rare.”

InVitae is building a strong management team. The company recently merged with Locus Development, a start-up co-founded by Sean George and Michele Cargill, founding scientists at Navigenics. Steve Lincoln and Jill Hagenkord, both formerly with Complete Genomics, also joined the cause this year, as did Reece Hart, former manager of research computing and informatics at Genentech.

- This article was first published at the Bio·IT World website on November 30, 2012.

Sustaining Progress in Personalized Medicine

December 4, 2012

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak at the Harvard Personalized Medicine Conference in Boston, MA. No other conference on personalized medicine brings together the array of scientists, stakeholders, and experts that this event does. This year the conference drove home to me that the potential to improve patient care via personalized medicine is greater than ever – yet the scientific and clinical challenges remain daunting. It is more important than ever to sustain biomedical innovation, and to ensure that health policy is informed by the enormous opportunity, and complexity, of making continued progress in this field.

The event also underscored that biopharmaceutical research companies are deeply committed to advancing the science of personalized medicine and building it into their research and development strategies. It affirms findings of a report released by the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development in 2010 which found that 94% of biopharmaceutical companies surveyed are investing in personalized medicine and 100% are using biomarkers in the discovery stage to learn about compounds. This research has required large up-front investments in new research tools and training. But, as we have seen in the last year-and-a-half with FDA approval of new targeted therapies for lung cancer, melanoma, and cystic fibrosis, it is starting to bear fruit for patients.

I’m hopeful we’ll see more approvals in the months ahead. In the report from Tufts, companies reported that 12-50% of compounds being researched are personalized medicines and over the last five years, they have seen a roughly 75% increase in their investment in personalized medicines. The importance of personalized medicine was illustrated in the reauthorization of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act, which provides FDA with increased resources and staffing to advance the regulatory science in areas such as pharmacogenomics and biomarkers.

This progress, however, doesn’t happen in isolation. The Harvard Conference participants represented, and illustrated, the wide range of organizations and individuals from different sectors that make up the research ecosystem that drives progress in personalized medicine. As the science of personalized medicine advances, research partnerships and collaborations will be more important than ever. To sustain progress in personalized medicine, it is vitally important to ensure that policy and regulation do not erect barriers to these types of partnerships.

Biomedical innovations like personalized medicine will help address major unmet medical needs, and offer a solution to rising healthcare costs.  As we face continued pressure to contain healthcare costs, it is crucial to ensure that healthcare policy sustains the innovation ecosystem and incentivizes continued progress in personalized medicine.


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