Putting the Pieces Together for Personalized Medicine

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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.

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