Although ‘precision medicine’ has been mentioned in medical circles since 1999, according to a recent article in Pharmafile, technological advancements have now made it feasible.
For years physicians have been hoping for an approach that targets only cancer tumors rather than chemotherapy and radiation, which are systemic therapies that can impact healthy organs.
The Dual Role of Precision Medicine
The eventual shift may be moving away from the comparison of large groups of patients that could be termed as a ‘catch-all’ approach. Instead, researchers will focus on biomarkers (signs of disease) and genetic profiling. This paradigm, which is gradually being adopted worldwide, will lead to new methods of analyzing disease and administering treatment.
It has already led to a summit at which health experts and practitioners meet annually to discuss methods designed to improve patient outcomes. The gathering is called the Powering Precision Health (PPH) Summit.
Kevin Hrusovsky, the founder of PPH, offered his opinion about the possibility of precision medicine becoming the newest approach for treating patients.
He explained that precision medicine measures a person’s health at the molecular level. The word ‘molecular’ usually describes the smallest units in an organism.
Numerous advances in technology have given researchers an understanding of how a disease progresses. These advances include ultrasensitive biomarker detection tools that also show how a disease reacts to medication and therapy.
Pharmaceutical companies can identify candidates for drug trials earlier in their disease when it is more easily treatable. The new approach also allows the companies to make a more accurate assessment of the clinical trial outcome.
Precision health typically tracks proteins in the blood that may indicate either sickness or health. Ideally, this could prevent illness or at a minimum provide early detection and diagnosis.
Precision medicine takes into account the varied circumstances surrounding each person. These would include inherited issues in genes and an individual’s unique habits. This approach is the exact opposite of one-size-fits-all.
At this juncture precision medicine is often still reactive as treatment is administered after, not before, symptoms occur. However, a mastectomy may be performed based on a genetic test that detected an inherited mutation increasing the risk of breast cancer.
The Need for Precision Medicine in MS
There is no cure for multiple sclerosis (MS). The best a patient can expect is the management of symptoms and possible reduction of side-effects.
MS affects the central nervous system. It is unpredictable and can range from being somewhat benign to severely disabling when communication is interrupted between the brain and other areas of the body.
Doctors acknowledge that because MS varies so widely among patients, they must build their practice around the most objective data possible in order to make critical diagnoses and treatment decisions.
The precision medicine approach allows doctors to evaluate biomarkers and then use that knowledge to design treatment plans.
The Challenge and the Goal
The challenge for physicians is to detect chronic changes in MS before damage to the central nervous system prevents stability or recovery.
The ultimate goal is prevention, which means being proactive rather than reactive, especially in dealing with diseases such as advanced cancers. As an example, biomarkers can be used as early warning signs instead of scrambling to treat the disease after symptoms become evident.
Hrusovsky outlined some many digital tools available to the average person to establish their unique profile.
- Mapping genomes
- Discovering lineage with a simple cheek swab
- Monitoring nutrition, calories, and sleep with the help of wearables or apps
Many companies are now using artificial intelligence to analyze this data.
Hrusovsky said he believes that if the medical profession fully commits to the precision approach now, by 2030 healthcare will be forty percent lower in cost. He estimates that healthcare will be sixty percent more accessible to average citizens, who could also have their lifespan increased by eight years.
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