Sustaining Progress in Personalized Medicine

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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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