Archive for the ‘genetic testing’ Category

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 http://www.personalizedmedicineconference.org.

The History and Future of Personalized Medicine

October 27, 2014

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.

Required Reading: July 2014

August 1, 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 the July 2014 installment of Required Reading.


Nobody is Average but What to Do About It? The Challenge of Individualized Disease Prevention Based on Genomics by Muin J. Khoury, CDC Genomics and Health Impact Blog

When it comes to individual health risks, there is no such thing as average, yet most health guidelines and recommendations are tailored to “average” individuals in the population. This blog post by Muin J. Khoury, director of the Office of Public Health Genomics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlights some of the challenges to actualizing the concept of individualized disease prevention and best utilizing each individual’s biological uniqueness.

The Emotional Side of Personalized Medicine by Ide Mills, Genome

For more than 30 years, Ide Mills worked as an oncology social worker, health educator, and communication strategist. Now as a woman living with advanced, ALK-positive non-small cell lung cancer, Mills tells Genome magazine about her experience transitioning from intravenous chemotherapy to a twice-daily pill regimen to help treat her disease. Her story details the challenges – and improvements – she experienced adjusting to the concept of oral cancer therapy and taking an active role in her healthcare.

23andMe Co-founder Anne Wojcicki’s Washington Charm Offensive by Ariana Eunjung Cha, The Washington Post

When she founded genetic company 23andMe more than six years ago, Anne Wojcicki’s ultimate goal was for people to be in control of their own healthcare. Wojcicki is still determined to change the way traditional healthcare works in the United States by shifting the focus to individuals instead of institutions. 23andMe is currently working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to get approval for its direct-to-consumer personal health reports that analyze an individual’s DNA.

As Sequencing Moves into Clinical Use, Insurers Balk by Julie Steenhuysen, Reuters 

A number of major insurers are beginning to address the increasing availability and usage of gene-sequencing tests by seeking proof that the results will lead to meaningful treatments among the estimated 2 million Americans with a serious, undiagnosed disease. Genetic experts have responded saying that gene-sequencing tests, such as exome sequencing, are bringing hope to families by more than doubling the chances they will get a diagnosis and saving them money by not spending it on multiple tests of a single gene. 

Developing New Tools to Support Regulatory Use of “Next Gen Sequencing” Data by Carolyn A. Wilson, Ph.D., FDAVoice blog

In last month’s Required Reading, we shared an article from The New York Times about next-generation sequencing (NGS). Learn more about the private cloud-based environment called the High-Performance Integrated Virtual Environment (HIVE) that the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research supported the development of to help prepare the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to review and understand the interpretation and significance of data in regulatory submissions that include NGS. 

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.

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.

Personalized Medicine Community Gathers in Boston for the Ninth Year to Share Insights and Innovation from the Field

October 29, 2013

Personalized Medicine was an emerging field of medicine in 2005 when we first held what was to become an annual event, our personalized medicine conference. The importance of personalized medicine was given a boost by the then U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Michael Leavitt, who said in January 2005, “I believe we are moving into a remarkable and powerful new era in medicine and particularly in prescription drugs.  I’d refer to it as an era of personalized medicine.” Since then many different names have been given to this approach to medicine. They include “Precision Medicine”, “Genomic Medicine”, “Genetic Medicine”, “Individualized Medicine”, and “P4 Medicine” to name a few.

This year, we gear up for our 9th Annual Personalized Medicine Conference on November 6th and 7th, in Boston, arguments can be made about what name adequately describes the enterprise in which genetic and genomic information informs us about a person’s risk for human disease; about a clear diagnosis on which treatments depend; about prognosis for a disease such as cancer; about genetic variants in an individual patient that may determine that person’s ability to metabolize a particular chemical entity; about genetic and genomic changes that might inform physicians about the appropriate therapeutic approach; and about many other aspects of health and medicine where genetics may play a role. Some people in the scientific community contend that the use of such a diversity of names for the same enterprise is natural and reflects the evolution of the field. What we cannot ignore is the direction that the science is leading us – toward precision diagnosis and treatment of disease at the molecular level.

As I reflect on the past nine years, some aspects of personalized medicine have changed rapidly and others are relatively unchanged. One of the biggest and most exciting changes involves the growing commitment of drug developers to the development of targeted therapies. At the beginning of the 21st century, there were only a few drugs that could be considered “targeted” therapies. Now, in cancer, for example, the development of such targeted therapies is becoming the norm because many of these drugs have few adverse effects and the response rates of patients, whose tumors have the molecular target for the drugs, are very high compared to other non-targeted therapies. We can find similar “personalized” approaches to treatment in the areas of infectious disease, cardiovascular disease and other areas.

Today, much of personalized medicine is fueled by new technologies related to DNA and RNA sequencing. It has been estimated that the cost of sequencing has dropped by a factor of 100 from the beginning of this century. The amount of DNA or RNA required to sequence whole genomes has also been reduced by orders of magnitude and there are now technologies in development that promise to sequence single molecules of DNA in a matter of few hours. As the technologies improve and associated costs decline, the benefits of genome sequencing become more apparent. It is easy to imagine a not-too-distant future when people around the world have their genome sequenced as part of the standard of care. Despite present concerns about the cost to analyze all of these genomic data, I am certain that newer algorithms will enable us to automate much of the analytical and interpretive processes to propel us toward a new level of understanding regarding the prevention and treatment of disease.

As the science evolves and entrepreneurs continue to innovate, we are faced with new challenges.

Open and informed discussions about issues related to personalized medicine are critical for better understanding of the successes, failures and promises of this relatively young medical enterprise. Our Conference in Boston provides one such forum and we hope that you will be able to join us.

The future of medicine is before us.

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Harvard Medical School, Harvard Business School and the Partners HealthCare System in Boston will convene the 9th Annual Personalized Medicine Conference on the campus of Harvard Medical School this November 6 and 7. As has been the practice since the Conference’s inception, this year’s meeting is in association with the Personalized Medicine Coalition (PMC). For the first time, we also welcome the participation of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), a member driven organization that has been dedicated for more than a hundred years to promoting cancer research and cancer care, as a co-convener.

For more information and to register for the 9th Annual Personalized Medicine Conference, please visit www.personalizedmedicineconference.org.

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.

Personalized Medicine Is Waiting on the Shelf

November 16, 2012

While there’s a tendency to paint the future of personalized medicine as sunny, there are a number of issues persistently clouding the horizon. Bob Langreth and I examine one of these concerns in a story you can read at Bloomberg entitled, “Life-Saving DNA Test Overlooked in Rise of Colon Cancer.” Provider education has long stood in the way of patient access to genetic tests for Lynch syndrome, an inherited cause of high cancer risk. While the testing has been available for more than 10 years, enjoys recommendations from clinical and public health groups, and has been shown to save lives in studies, many providers remain unaware of its availability and power. The test costs as little as $300 in families where the mutation has already been identified. People who test positive can take preventive action with frequent monitoring, perhaps having vulnerable tissue removed.  Yet in too many cases it remains on the shelf.

How are we going to get the benefit of full genomes when simple, straightforward tests like this go unused?

John Lauerman will be participating in the panel discussion, “Impact of Genome Sequencing and Health,” at Harvard’s 8th Annual Personalized Medicine Conference, November 28-29, 2012, in Boston, Massachusetts.

National Bioeconomy Blueprint Showcases Personalized Medicine as Model for Strengthening U.S. Bioeconomy

May 7, 2012

Last week, the White House released its National Bioeconomy Blueprint.  It lays out some strategic objectives designed to help realize the full potential of the U.S. biotechnology sector to generate economic growth by creating jobs and addressing societal needs.

As an example of how the government’s efforts can facilitate the development of a more robust bioeconomy, the report discusses the impact of the Human Genome Project and the development of personalized medicine. The Blueprint cites the Case for Personalized Medicine, 3rd Edition, noting “advances in recent technologies have increased the momentum of personalized medicine – customized healthcare based on specific genetic or other information of an individual patient.”

While we agree that policies are needed to help support research and development (R&D), improve translational and regulatory science, improve regulation in other areas, enhance workforce training, and develop new public-private partnerships and precompetitive collaborations, we are concerned they are not sufficient to allow us to realize Adriana Jenkins’ dying wish, that all patients have access to personalized treatments.

The White House is correct to shine a light on FDA and direct the agency to focus attention on application review times, coordinated parallel reviews of products, and continued improvement of regulatory science. In reality, we are already seeing the benefits of this increased coordination – with FDA’s accelerated review and approval of Kalydeco™ for cystic fibrosis and Xalkori® for non-small cell lung cancer, each with a companion diagnostic approved together and in advance of FDA time lines.

Still, engaging on regulatory science and streamlining FDA processes will only go so far to improve the bioeconomy and bring personalized medicine to patients. For instance, current comparative effectiveness research (CER) and health technology assessment (HTA) models, which are not addressed in the Blueprint, are not well aligned with the science of personalized medicine and such misalignment causes additional barriers to market entry and patient access after FDA approval. The Blueprint highlights coverage with evidence development (CED) as a potential HTA model, but it should be noted that although CED can be a good tool, if done wrong, it can also chill innovation.

Likewise, unclear and unrealistic expectations for obtaining Medicare coverage and adequate payment for personalized medicine products and services are a substantial hurdle, preventing companies from seizing the full scientific potential and translating that into new treatments and the resulting high-paying jobs and economic contributions that follow.

We look forward to working with the Administration and with Congress to shape policies that will help support the ability of companies to continue to develop personalized medicines and bring them to patients, including research and development tax credits, delivery system reforms, and regulatory and reimbursement policies. Given the tremendous potential of personalized medicines, it’s key that we get the policies right to foster companies working on personalized medicine and thereby improve patients’ lives and our economy.

Personalized Cancer Care Requires Effective Diagnostic Tools

July 13, 2011

On July 8th, the New York Times published a lead story “How Bright Promise in Cancer Testing Fell Apart” that questions the value of genetic testing to determine cancer treatment strategies. I wrote a letter to the editor, which the New York Times published on July 12th and read in part:

The larger reality is that patients benefit from personalized medicine every day.

Safe and effective targeted therapeutics have reshaped treatment for breast cancer and leukemia, for example; and just last month, reports from the American Society of Clinical Oncology of successful clinical trials for targeted therapies in melanoma and lung cancer are expected to do the same.

In fact, complex genomic tests have been on the market for years. A survey by the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development found that 94 percent of biopharmaceutical companies are investing in personalized medicine and that 100 percent are using biomarkers to learn more about compounds during the discovery phase of their research.

If it were not for the opportunities this field offers to improve outcomes by matching the right treatments to the right patients, we would not see industry or the federal government making these investments in an effort to advance the frontiers of medicine.

Clearly, as the story reports, some trials will fail and unfortunately, even a single case of fraud is too many.  Nevertheless, to leap to the conclusion (and print it on the front page of the New York Times) that cancer testing is in danger of “falling apart” or to suggest that we are locked into a one-size-fits-all paradigm overlooks current and future capacity to improve diagnosis and target treatment.  We should not lose sight of the value personalized medicine provides to patients while maintaining our commitment to scientifically sound research that supports molecular medicine.


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