This month marks the 16th anniversary of the first full publication of the human genome. Far from being old news, the potential of genomics continues to grow. In what’s already a period of transformation for Life Sciences companies, how can they drive value from genomics, and what are the pitfalls to be avoided?
The inaugural Human Genome Project (HGP) – a collaboration between many organizations worldwide – may be complete, but work on the human genome and potential applications of the knowledge acquired is far from over. Various initiatives to sequence large numbers of human genomes are under way as Life Sciences industry players and new entrants invest significant resources in personalized medicine. Collaboration with academic institutions is important as we still have a way to go to ensure consistency of technique and quality, understand the power of genomic sequencing in full and fill in all the knowledge gaps.
Worth the effort
Personalized medicine considers patients’ precise genetic make-up and explores how certain predispositions interact with lifestyle and other factors to govern an individual’s health status and response to therapy. Alongside the promise of better patient outcomes – including for people with rare diseases – personalized medicine based on genomics holds great promise for pharmaceutical companies.
In a market characterized by intense cost pressure, payers are only too keen to support outcome based remuneration models (pay-for-performance). It means an added incentive for Life Sciences firms to create effective, tailored therapies. Genomics could also offer time and cost savings in getting drugs to market thanks to a faster pipeline of products aimed at smaller target populations. This is especially true if companies are prepared to share data or collaborate in other ways.
Collaboration is already a growing trend in Life Sciences, where joint ventures, strategic partnerships with academic institutions and biotech incubators or accelerators. The Swiss Life Sciences clusters are particularly well placed to benefit from data sharing and synergies.
The general shift in mindset from competition to cooperation is vital in genomics, where the number of stakeholders is particularly high – think pharma companies, biobanks, genetic interpretation consultants, genetic testing and government projects. Alongside mindsets, players choosing to focus on genomics will be rethinking their operating models as past approaches are no longer fit for the future of personalized medicine.
With so many specialists working together, there are many data sharing touchpoints. Amid the benefits of collaboration, it’s important not to lose sight of patients. They need to understand who is using their data and why. It’s a difficult question, especially given the difficulty of tracking ownership reliably along the value chain. It also raises the issue of informed consent, a cornerstone of medical and experimental ethics that easily predates modern data protection concerns. In our era of strict regulation, parties that handle data need to consider privacy and consent as part of their strategy. Only with the right framework in place will innovators be free to develop this powerful potential further and make an important difference to patients’ lives.
Risks and side effects
Amid the euphoria of this new potential, it’s important to remember that genomics does not tell the whole picture. Healthcare providers should not neglect the significance of lifestyle, experience and diagnostic technologies. In the original HGP, a sizable portion of the budget was earmarked for ethics, and the topic remains a real concern.
How do we handle the information unleashed by unprecedented insights into the very fiber of human existence? For instance, some health insurance companies already offer favorable pricing for consumers that fulfill certain lifestyle criteria. Will they lower premiums for people that have “won” in the genetic lottery? And what about the increased risk of data fraud among those with less favorable medical data?
Genomics is an exciting breakthrough that looks set to reshape healthcare from the inside out. Life Sciences companies that keep patients at the center of their strategies and consider data and security adequately stand to benefit most from new developments. As do patients themselves.
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