The History and Future of Personalized Medicine

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Many of us in the genetics and genomics community think that this a golden age for our work. During the last thirty years or so, it has become apparent that genetics plays a very important role in virtually all aspects of human health and disease.

The completion of the human genome sequence at the beginning of this century promised that the use of genetic and genomic tools in understanding the basis for disease and in providing novel approaches to care would become available. It was anticipated that genetic and genomic testing would allow accurate diagnosis of disease, determine the prognosis for the patients with disease, and help physicians make the most optimal choices about how to treat their patients.

This promise launched the era of Personalized Medicine. Several academic institutions embraced this concept. In Boston, Harvard Medical School and Partners HealthCare (the parent organization for several major hospitals in Massachusetts including the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Massachusetts General Hospital) launched a new center designated the Harvard Partners Center for Genetics and Genomics (HPCGG), and I had the privilege of being its first Scientific Director.

HPCGG wished to promote personalized medicine and decided that one way to accomplish that goal was to provide a forum for review of the advances in personalized medicine, in all of its facets, and to discuss ways in which the field can be advanced and have an impact on patient care. This vision was shared by a few other organizations including Edward Abrahams of the Personalized Medicine Coalition and Marcia Kean of Feinstein Kean Healthcare. Together we launched the annual Personalized Medicine Conference.

We have always felt that to advance personalized medicine, business had to embrace the concept and find value in investing in this enterprise. To promote that goal, we were joined by Regi Herzlinger, Richard Hamermesh and their many colleagues at Harvard Business School.

In 2014, we are celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Conference as well as the anniversary of the birth of the Personalized Medicine Coalition. The past decade has witnessed many exciting new developments in personalized medicine: the significant reduction in the cost of DNA sequencing and related technologies; the use of these technologies for an unprecedented rate of discovery of human disease genes; a near universal acceptance of the importance of genetics and genomics in drug development, especially for cancer; the levels of investment in personalized medicine companies; recognition of the importance of personalized medicine by professional societies; and the deep involvement by the administrative and legislative bodies in the U.S. and throughout the world.

There have been exciting moments such as the passage of the Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act; the successful launch and execution of whole exome and whole genome sequencing to understand diseases such as cancer and several childhood disorders of unknown etiology; and the development of novel drugs and therapies based on the genetic constitution of individuals or tumors. There are frustrations around the lack of certainty about regulation and reimbursement — but such is progress!

The tenth anniversary of the Personalized Medicine Conference, to be held on the campus of Harvard Medical School November 12-13, 2014, will again bring together leaders from many different areas of personalized medicine and promises to provide a lively forum for exchange of ideas. I personally welcome the opportunity to again host this meeting in November and look forward to seeing you and greeting you there.


The Personalized Medicine Conference is an annual two-day event co-hosted and presented by Partners HealthCare Personalized Medicine, Harvard Business School, and Harvard Medical School in association with the American Association for Cancer Research and Personalized Medicine Coalition. 

For more information and to register for the 10th Annual Personalized Medicine Conference, please visit http://www.personalizedmedicineconference.org.

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