Archive for the ‘Drug development’ Category

Special Edition Required Reading: Turning the Tide Against Cancer 2014 National Conference

November 7, 2014

Great stories are published daily about the impact personalized medicine is having on individual patients, and the medical community as a whole, but it can be a challenge to stay on top of the news. With that in mind, we bring to you a monthly roundup of the three to five most thought-provoking articles we are reading, sharing and discussing with our colleagues.

This is a special installment of Required Reading reporting on coverage of the Turning the Tide Against Cancer 2014 national conference, which was held on October 9 in Washington, D.C. The following articles focus on the passionate and engaging discussion that took place at the conference, delving into the importance of moving towards a more high-value, patient-centric system of cancer care that helps to improve patient outcomes and represents each individual’s unique needs and definition of “value.”

Through Len’s Lens: Putting a Price on Value by J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, M.D., MACP, MedPage Today

Cancer Community Turns Focus to ‘Value’ by Alicia Ault,

‘Turning the Tide’ Working Group Issues Recommendations on Patient-Centered, Value-Based Cancer Care  by Peggy Eastman, Oncology Times

Turning The Tide Against Cancer: A Discussion on Value by Amy O’Connor, PACE USA Blog

ASCO’s Tool for Scoring Cancer Drug Value to be Released in Early 2015 by Cathy Kelly, The Pink Sheet Daily (Subscription Required)

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America’s (PhRMA) Conversations blog also featured a video series with several speakers from the Turning the Tide Against Cancer 2014 national conference to get their thoughts on scientific advances in cancer treatments. The full set of responses can be viewed below.

Newton F. Crenshaw, Vice President, North American Oncology Commercial Operations, Global Business Development and Advocacy, Eli Lilly and Company

Linda House, R.N., B.S.N., M.S.M., Executive Vice President, External Affairs, Cancer Support Community

J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, M.D., MACP, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, American Cancer Society

Stephen L. Eck, M.D., Ph.D., Vice President, Global Head of Oncology Medical Sciences, Astellas Pharma Global Development

Roy S. Herbst, M.D., Ph.D., Ensign Professor of Medicine, Professor of Pharmacology, Chief of Medical Oncology, Director of the Thoracic Oncology Research Program, and Associate Director for Translational Research, Yale Comprehensive Cancer Center and Yale School of Medicine

To follow the news on the Turning the Tide Against Cancer initiative, visit the News page.

No Test, No Drug

November 4, 2014

It is very difficult to select the appropriate therapy for a patient if you don’t know what disease you are treating. For the practicing physician, the patient’s presenting symptoms, history, physical examination, and radiological and biochemical evaluations typically establish the diagnosis by placing the disease in one of many accepted clinical diagnostic categories (phenotypes). The search for more clearly recognizable, homogeneous patient phenotypes has driven much of our early medical progress. Treating congestive heart failure, for example, is much more productive than trying to treat dropsy; a much older and imprecise collection of not-otherwise-specified edematous conditions.

Have we now arrived at the limit of utility of the descriptive phenotypic disease classification? I suggest that genotypic descriptions based on the root cause, or key molecular attribute, of the disease will rapidly replace phenotype-based disease classifications.  This can’t happen fast enough for those in drug discovery where a drug’s mechanism of action (increasingly derived from genetic considerations) must be matched with a recognized clinical indication.

The transition from phenotype-based to genotype-based indications will not be easy. It was not that long ago that we recognized that several distinctly different genetic alterations can lead to the same clinical phenotype. For example, patients with the same clinical presentation of cystic fibrosis are not expected to respond to a therapy such ivacaftor (Kalydeco, Vertex Pharmaceuticals) unless they have the appropriate CFTR mutations among the many CFTR mutations that cause cystic fibrosis.

We have discovered that patients with the same molecular basis of disease may have distinctly different phenotypes. This means that two patients with markedly different clinical presentations may be responsive to the same therapy specifically directed at their shared molecular basis of disease. While this has yet to be reduced to routine practice, recent discoveries are clearly taking us in this direction.

For example, Kevin Strauss and colleagues at the Clinic for Special Children (Human Molecular Genetics, July 2014) have identified a variant of KCNH7 (which encodes a potentially targetable ion channel) that strongly associates with bi-polar spectrum disorder. Especially noteworthy is their observation that patients with the KCNH7 variant do not present as a single psychiatric phenotype but rather with a variety of axis 1 major affective disorders.

But medical progress in this new era depends upon coordinated activity by multiple stakeholders. In this instance, psychiatrists must be comfortable with genetic classifications of disease and be sufficiently knowledgeable to order the correct drug for patients with similar phenotypes but differing genotypes. The drug developer must have established the safety and efficacy of a new drug in patients with the specific genetic alteration and also potentially have established the lack of efficacy in patients with similar phenotypes but lacking the genotype for which the drug was developed. A diagnostic company must have developed and validated a FDA approved genetic test. Finally, there must be a reimbursement scheme that recognizes the contributions of all of the above parties.

For this to become commonplace, the clinical molecular test (at least in a prototype form) will need to exist once one begins to look for the new chemical entity that will become a drug. This will also mean that we need to invest more in genetic epidemiology. The availability of the drug for the target and the test for the target will be essential in early development, especially if there is a plan to enrich for patients with appropriate particular genotype among those with a similar phenotype.

Does this mean that all new drugs in development need a companion diagnostic? Not just yet, though we may be getting there. There is plenty of disease biology for which a drug can be made but for which a test can’t be found, including in the field of immunotherapy. But even here the secrets that regulate immune response will be revealed and genotype testing will be a prerequisite for prescription writing in this field and in almost all indications.

These and other topics will be explored at the Harvard Personalized Medicine Conference in Boston on November 12-13.

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

Reflections from the Turning the Tide Against Cancer Conference

October 16, 2014

Following the Turning the Tide Against Cancer national conference last Thursday, I’ve had time to reflect on what we must do next to improve how patients experience cancer care.

To make that change we must acknowledge key truths.

Science is driving us towards more targeted solutions and novel approaches to treatment. The clinical trials and regulations necessary to get new products to market must change with the science. They must be nimble to keep pace with the extraordinary advances we are seeing.

Coverage and payment decisions must also allow patients access to advanced treatments and not disincentivize innovations in health care. While new products sometimes seem expensive, we must remember that costs are saved by getting the right treatment to the right patient at the outset of care.

We must educate. Each of us has a responsibility and a role to play in educating all participants in health care about the changes we are seeing in cancer. We must educate patients and their families about the complexity of decision-making and share information with them so that each patient can make informed choices. We must provide resources so health care providers are able to stay current with the latest developments in care. We also must educate policy makers to ensure that negative unintended consequences of policies are avoided.

Everyone working in health care wants to provide patients with the absolute best treatments imaginable – and those we have not yet even begun to imagine. Sometimes that will require addressing very tough questions in order for personalized medicine to be fully integrated into the health system.

Finally, we should celebrate the improvements made in cancer care from innovations in clinical trial design, to imaginative diagnostic testing of solid tumors that allow for better targeting of treatments, and tests that help physicians and patients make the best treatment choices. Advances are being made in science that are extending and improving lives. This is no small feat, and while our goals are great, we must celebrate the achievements that have taken us this far, and acknowledge the policies and pathways that made those discoveries possible.

We have an opportunity and responsibility to change the future of cancer care through continued education and advocacy. I invite you to help be a part of this change by sharing your thoughts and joining us on this journey to turn the tide against cancer.

Turning the Tide Against Cancer: Policies to Sustain Innovation

October 1, 2014

Leading up to the second Turning the Tide Against Cancer Through Sustain Medical Innovation national conference on October 9, 2014, in Washington, D.C., the Age of Personalized Medicine editorial team had the chance to sit down with leaders from the initiative’s co-convening organizations to talk about the current cancer research and care landscape, what progress has been made since the start of the initiative, and the upcoming conference.

Last week, we heard from Edward Abrahams Ph.D., president of the Personalized Medicine Coalition on the importance of patient-centered care and value, and the need for policies that encourage innovation in cancer research and personalized medicine in order to improve patient outcomes.

Our conversation with Marcia A. Kean, M.B.A., chairman of Feinstein Kean Healthcare, on the importance of enacting policies that keep pace with the rapid development of innovative cancer treatments, can be viewed below. Stay tuned for our video interview with Margaret Foti, Ph.D., M.D. (h.c.), chief executive officer of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Visit the Turning the Tide Against Cancer website to register for the conference and learn more about ways you or your organization can support the ongoing initiative. The Age of Personalized Medicine will also be tweeting live from the conference on October 9 using #T3cancer.

A Preview of the Turning the Tide Against Cancer National Conference – Part 2

September 30, 2014

Leading up to the Turning the Tide Against Cancer 2014 national conference, the Age of Personalized Medicine editorial team posed two questions to leaders in the cancer community who will be speaking at the event on October 9 in Washington, D.C. In part one, we asked speakers to share their insights on the role of innovation in advancing cancer research and care. The second question focused on the shift to patient-centered research and care, and how patient-centric approaches can improve healthcare.

QUESTION: What does having a patient-centered healthcare system mean, and why it is important for the healthcare system as a whole?

Here’s what some of the conference speakers had to say:


Patricia GoldsmithPatricia J. Goldsmith, CEO, CancerCare

“Consistent with the IOM definition, patient-centered care is respectful of and responsive to the individual patient’s preferences, needs and values. The days when clinicians make all of the decisions are over. Now that the consumer movement has reached healthcare, patients are becoming empowered to partner with their physicians to get the treatment they believe is best for them. The balance of power is shifting so that decision-making is shared. Within this environment, patients can fully engage in the process of developing and managing their own treatment. This is important because we know that engaged patients have better outcomes, higher levels of satisfaction with their health care, and consume fewer clinical resources.”


Tanisha CarinoTanisha V. Carino, Ph.D., Executive Vice President, Avalere Health

“In order to strive for a more patient-centered approach to cancer care, it is important to consider how patients are engaged in defining healthcare priorities, including identifying areas of unmet need and the types of study designs that best reflect the risks and tradeoffs they experience in care practice. Sustained medical innovation plays a central role in meeting these constantly evolving patient needs, which are particularly complex for cancer patients. Moreover, patients are now bearing much more financial responsibility for their care than in the past. The majority of exchange enrollees chose plans in the Silver metal level, which come with average deductibles up to $2,260 and maximum out-of-pocket costs reaching up to $6,350 for in-network care, according to Avalere PlanScape™ analysis. With increased financial accountability, patients, along with their caregivers, are increasingly engaged in making choices regarding the most appropriate treatment. Payment mechanisms for cancer care and new insurance products will need to keep pace with both medical advances and the financial realities facing patients and their caregivers.”


abernethyAmy P. Abernethy, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Medicine, Duke University School of Medicine; Chief Medical Officer and Senior Vice President of Oncology, Flatiron Health, Inc.

“Cancer care isn’t about cancer and cancer care isn’t about health systems.  Nor is it about research or researchers. It’s about real people who are touched by, afflicted with, and hopefully live way beyond the experience of cancer.  So fundamentally, we need to build our medical innovations with the patient in mind.  For this reason, I’ve always thought we have to have the patient at the center of our data story – where data from one patient tells a longitudinal story across a life and then it’s the data of many patients that are aggregated together to form our foundational data set to support innovation.  Similarly, patients need to be the cornerstones of our clinical trials and basic research – our muse.”


Crenshaw PhotoNewton F. Crenshaw, Vice President, North American Oncology Commercial Operations, Global Business Development and Advocacy, Eli Lilly and Company

“Patient-centered care means exactly that: treatment choices and care that reflect the preferences, needs, and values of someone with cancer, for whom each treatment decision has a profound implication on health and quality of life. Every patient’s experience is unique: for some people, progress means a better prognosis and more time spent with their families; others prioritize treatment that has fewer side effects or is easier to administer. Ultimately, patient-centered care respects these differences and prioritizes the values of each individual person.”


Coehlo Photo2Tony Coelho, Former Member, U.S. House of Representatives; Chairman, Partnership to Improve Patient Care

“Personalized and patient-centered cancer care will improve health outcomes by identifying the treatments that work best for individual patients, improving outcomes by avoiding trial and error medicine. To further support patient-centered care, policies must not limit access or push ‘one-size-fits-all’ treatment solutions. Patient-centeredness consists of a series of principles focused on patient engagement, patient activation, access to a range of treatments, and shared decision-making. Patient-centered principles must be incorporated into the early phases of evidence development, translation and implementation, as well as in the design and implementation of new payment and delivery reform models for cancer care.”

Visit the Turning the Tide Against Cancer website to register for the conference and learn more about ways you or your organization can support the ongoing initiative. The Age of Personalized Medicine will also be tweeting live from the conference on October 9. Join the conversation with #T3cancer.

A Preview of the Turning the Tide Against Cancer National Conference – Part 1

September 29, 2014

Leading up to the Turning the Tide Against Cancer 2014 national conference, the Age of Personalized Medicine editorial team posed two questions to leaders in the cancer community who will be speaking at the event on October 9 in Washington, D.C. In part one, we asked speakers to share their insights on the role of innovation in advancing cancer research and care. Check back for part two where we ask leaders to define patient-centered and explain how patient-centric approaches can improve healthcare.

QUESTION: What role does medical innovation play in paving the pathway to progress towards a sustainable and high-value, patient-centric cancer care system?

Here’s what some of the conference speakers had to say:



Amy P. Abernethy, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Medicine, Duke University School of Medicine; Chief Medical Officer and Senior Vice President of Oncology, Flatiron Health, Inc.

“One area of important medical innovation is the generation and use of data. This is not just hype around ‘big data’ but the recognition that we need amalgamation of data streams that tell the whole person’s story. This includes information about the cancer itself, and also the individual’s personal life: their values and needs, their personal experiences, as well as biometric monitoring. The longitudinal story expressed through data can then be used to support many innovations in cancer care. It can act as a clinical annotation stream to inform biological research such as annotation of biospecimens, biomarkers and basic discovery. It can be used to optimize cancer care delivery, or used for quality monitoring and to highlight gaps in care to be resolved. It can be used to compare differing interventions to figure out what works for whom and when. Advancing high quality and sustainable medical care is dependent on innovations around the generation and use of data.”


Newton F. Crenshaw, Vice President, North American Oncology Commercial Operations, Global Business Development  and Advocacy, Eli Lilly and Company

Newton F. Crenshaw, Vice President, North American Oncology Commercial Operations, Global Business Development and Advocacy, Eli Lilly and Company

“Medical innovation is absolutely central to advancing the fight against the over 200 types of cancer. Each new advance, no matter how small, contributes to our scientific understanding of this collection of diseases, and provides new hope and cures to people with cancer. This cycle of continuous innovation has had impressive results and generated savings throughout the health care system: since 1975, the 5-year survival rate for cancer patients has increased by about 40%. To sustain–and accelerate–this progress, our society must continue to foster and reward innovation.”


Coehlo Photo2Tony Coelho, Former Member, U.S. House of Representatives; Chairman, Partnership to Improve Patient Care

“The rapid pace of medical innovation in oncology is increasing our ability to provide more personalized, patient-centered care (based on their biomarkers, quality of life considerations, etc.). Achieving more efficient delivery of high quality care will require continued medical innovation, including development of new treatments, improvements to existing treatments, and increasing efficiencies in the delivery system that support higher quality care and an overall a reduction in the economic and health burden of disease. But innovation is worthless without access to it.”

Visit the Turning the Tide Against Cancer website to register for the conference and learn more about ways you or your organization can support the ongoing initiative. The Age of Personalized Medicine will also be tweeting live from the conference on October 9. Join the conversation with #T3cancer.

Turning the Tide Against Cancer: Patient-Centered Care and Value

September 24, 2014

On October 9, the Personalized Medicine Coalition, the American Association for Cancer Research, and Feinstein Kean Healthcare will be convening the second Turning the Tide Against Cancer Through Sustained Medical Innovation national conference in Washington, D.C., to continue the ongoing dialogue which began at the initiative’s inaugural conference in June 2012.

This year’s conference will bring together leaders from across the cancer community to help identify specific policy solutions to the challenges of supporting the shift to patient-centered research and care and addressing the value and cost of cancer care — two key themes that have emerged through the initiative’s ongoing work.

The Age of Personalized Medicine editorial team sat down with each of the initiative co-conveners to talk about the current cancer research and care landscape,  the upcoming conference, and what progress has been made since the start of the Turning the Tide Against Cancer initiative in 2011.

Our conversation with Edward Abrahams Ph.D., president of the Personalized Medicine Coalition can be viewed below. Stay tuned for additional video interviews with Margaret Foti, Ph.D., M.D. (h.c.), chief executive officer of the American Association for Cancer Research and Marcia A. Kean, M.B.A., chairman of Feinstein Kean Healthcare.

Visit the Turning the Tide Against Cancer website to register for the conference and learn more about ways you or your organization can support the ongoing initiative. The Age of Personalized Medicine will also be tweeting live from the conference on October 9.

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.

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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