Healthcare has long been regarded as a double-edged sword. On one hand, advances in healthcare throughout the centuries—especially in the past decade—outpace nearly all other forms of human advancement and are continuing to accelerate as research progresses in areas such as oncology, genetics, and molecular biology. On the other hand, increases in individual health and wellbeing continue to drag far behind rising healthcare costs, and issues with under- and over-diagnoses, improper treatment, and lack of access to proper healthcare continue to plague a large portion of the population. With a healthcare system geared towards broad treatment of the average patient, it is easy to see that a shift away from the traditional one-size-fits-all approach towards one that treats patients on an individual basis in a cost-effective manner is necessary in order to tame burgeoning health costs and increase wellbeing for each individual.
Luckily, the shift towards Precision Medicine—also commonly referred to as Personalized Medicine—is occurring not only within the United States but also around the world. With Precision Medicine, rather than focusing on treatments that target a generalized demographic, researchers and medical professionals instead take into account factors such as the environment, genetic makeup and lifestyle habits of an individual that contribute to the success or failure of individualized treatment plans. Indeed, with former president Barack Obama’s launch of the Precision Medicine Initiative in 2015—whose mission statement is to enable a new era of medicine through research, technology, and policies that empower patients, researchers and providers to work together toward the development of individualized care—the federal government has already begun to provide support for Precision Medicine through programs such as the All of Us Research Program, which is intended to collect a broad range of health data from over one million U.S. volunteers, and the FDA’s precision program, which is a cloud-based platform where users can test, develop, and validate genomic sequencing technologies.
With support from the healthcare industry, the technology sector and the federal government, substantial progress in Personalized Medicine is projected to majorly disrupt the future of health, with several key trends shaping this transformation. First, advances in genomic science and technology are leading towards lowered costs and impressive breakthroughs throughout the healthcare industry, with many oncology-based studies beginning to reach clinical trials and promising new and more cost-effective solutions. Similarly, the shift towards value-based reimbursement models and healthcare digitization is creating more stratified and outcome-based targeted therapies where patients are treated based on successful outcomes rather than a trial-and-error approach. Likewise, increasing transparency around drug pricing is pushing the pharmaceutical industry to more heavily invest in Precision Medicine, with reports revealing that pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical companies alike have doubled their investment in Personalized Medicine in the past five years—and are projected to increase investments by another one-third over the next five years.
Second, while the Precision Medicine industry continues to see immense progress in terms of oncology, increasing knowledge around genomics and disease progression is leading to more advanced research in non-oncology therapeutic areas as well, such as research into cardiovascular, inflammatory, and infectious diseases. In fact, studies show that an estimated 93% of current phase 3 pipelines are diagnostic dependent, with around two-thirds of these pipelines focused on non-oncology areas. With increased focus in both oncology and non-oncology research, then, continuous research into different cancers, chronic conditions, Diabetes, and a host of other persistent and life-threatening diseases can reveal answers into both the causes and potential solutions to some of the biggest health concerns the world faces today.
Third, Precision Medicine’s ability to use big healthcare data has begun to shift focus towards preventative care and recovery and away from traditional after-the-fact treatments. While chronic diseases have become more manageable in recent years due to breakthroughs in treatment and therapy, the longer lifespan of people afflicted with poor health conditions has dramatically increased healthcare costs for both individuals and the healthcare industry as a whole. With Precision Medicine, however, focusing on individual patients holistically across many factors such as environment, genetics and lifestyle has the ability to not only increase wellbeing for patients but also simultaneously decrease costs significantly for individuals and healthcare providers alike. With data on a variety of factors such as family history, weight, food habits, smoking, alcohol intake, and physical activity levels, researchers and healthcare providers can begin assisting individuals on gaining and maintaining health while preventing chronic conditions from occurring in the first place.
While trends in Precision Medicine continue to bode well for a future of effective healthcare, there are certain challenges that must first be addressed in order to accelerate this healthcare paradigm. For example, though research in Precision Medicine continues to advance at unprecedented rates, transforming these findings into practical clinical applications remains a challenge. Similarly, too much focus on the research and technology aspects of Personalized Medicine has led to a decreased focus on the basic determinants of population health, such as socioeconomic and geographic disparities as well as other environmental factors. While it is crucial to continue focusing on research, it is equally important to remain consistent in applying this data to real-world use in both clinical treatment and transforming individual lifestyles.
Ultimately, the healthcare paradigm shift towards Precision Medicine is not only a positive sign that the industry will continue to become increasingly more effective and less costly, but also that individuals around the world will be able to experience more engagement and empowerment when it comes to taking control of their own health and wellbeing. With the help of breakthrough technologies and increased research efforts, then, Precision Medicine is well on its way to transforming the world of healthcare.
About the author: Ana C. Rold is Founder and CEO of Diplomatic Courier, a Global Affairs Media Network. She teaches political science courses at Northeastern University and is the Host of The World in 2050–A Forum About Our Future. To engage with her on this article follow her on Twitter @ACRold.