Getting to the Point of Precision Medicine

The Twitterverse was aflutter during President Obama’s State of the Union (SOTU) address. According to social media listening tool Sysomos, there were approximately 2.1 million #SOTU- related mentions on Twitter during the one hour speech covering a wide range of economic, social and health care related topics. What’s more interesting, First lady Obama hosted a health data scientist who’d once worked for Google, IBM and now with the U.S. Digital Service. Presumptuously, the health care industry expected an announcement about advancing the role of health IT and interoperability among the provider community. Instead, what we heard was President Obama calling for an increased focus on research and development in “precision medicine” projects – a fledgling, and important, industry sector within the disease and molecular diagnostic community.

Specifically, the President’s agenda aimed at “using digital and genomic data to develop highly targeted disease treatments. The proposal would invest in ‘precision medicine’, an innovative field that provides healthcare professionals with tools, knowledge and treatments to tailor care to a person’s unique characteristics — such as their genetic makeup,” according to The White House blog.

As stated in The White House Release, “recent advances in genomics and digital data have produced powerful new discoveries about health and disease that have made it possible to design highly effective, targeted treatments for cancer and other diseases.” Obama’s proposal “will engage patients and healthcare providers in delivering this new era of medicine.”

Precision medicine has been a movement afoot that re-coined ‘personalized medicine’ to ‘precision medicine’, a new term to give the concept a fresh start by medical academia and health tech industry. Essentially, it is using the same knowledge we have gained by mapping the human DNA to use but with more advanced technologies. Either way you slice it, precision medicine, or personalized medicine 2.0, combats the 20th century ‘one size fits all’ mindset to drug therapy, and applies the data extrapolated  from genome mapping into more effective medicines to help speed up patient recovery, stave off diseases, and advance new drug discovery.

According to Dr. Lakdawalla of the National Pharmaceutical Council, whose organization’s primary mission is to improve quality of care and control costs by driving public and private research in comparative effectiveness, or ‘patient-centered outcomes research’ (PCOR), claims “there are new methods and economic analysis of data that allows researchers to estimate individual effects of drugs. We can look at 100,000 people’s information and compare two different treatments and figure out what each treatment is going to do to the individuals as if they were on each drug at the same time.”

However, even with these advances in mind, the health care community is still having difficulty putting actionable data to use. According to Dr. Lakdawalla, “there are many struggles within the health care community – among medical academia, researchers, providers and insurers – to meet the needs of the entire population and the individual by getting the right therapy to the right person at the right time.“

While the health tech and biogenetic forces continue to evolve their methodologies to support the advancement of patient-centered outcomes, The Myth of Average: Why Individual Patient Differences Matter outlines practical methods that can help identify patient diversity. What it boils down to is that patients today should be having an informed conversation with their health care provider (HCP), but patients are simply not aware of the right questions to ask their HCP in time of need. There should be an informed discussion among the physician and patient to decide on the best treatment based on the patient preferences and their personal response to certain drugs.

In order to advance precision medicine and make a tangible difference in patients’ lives, we must focus on developing a practical approach that begins with educating patients on the right questions to ask their HCPs, and empowering HCPs to factor in their patients’ individual needs when discussing their treatment options.

It is safe to say that in the end, regardless of political affiliation, we all want what President Obama called for in his address, “to cure diseases like cancer and diabetes — and to give all of us access to the personalized information we need to keep ourselves and our families healthier.”