What is Precision Medicine?
Current treatments for chronic diseases have a one-size-fits-all approach. This means doctors sometimes have blanket treatments and prescriptions for illnesses that in reality require much more granular examination. Precision medicine builds on the fact that diseases look very differently on a molecular level. Two patients may have the same illness, but as their genes, physical characteristics, lifestyles, and environment differ greatly, they may require entirely different treatments. Precision medicine champions a thoroughly tailored genetic approach to treat millions of patients with genetic diseases.
Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the US with 614,348 cases in 2017 alone. On the other hand, the American Cancer Society estimated about 1.7 million new cancer cases and almost 600,000 deaths in the same year. Many lifestyle factors—weight and diet issues, alcohol and tobacco consumption, among others—contribute to the development of these diseases. However, there are many individuals who are just genetically predisposed to certain diseases.
In addition to the health impacts, these diseases also have a negative impact on the economy. For example, cancer’s economic impact is around $80 billion per year in terms of loss of productivity, wages, and caregiver needs. Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia cost the US approximately $259 billion in 2017. These costs may just drive up to $1.1 trillion by 2050.
Ultimately new innovations in precision medicine are expected to substantially improve individuals’ and society’s health as a whole. Cancer, diabetes, heart and respiratory diseases, as well as Alzheimer’s could potentially be diminished. The scientific community aims to save and prolong lives using existing health records, genetic testing, data analytics, and supercomputing.
Steps Beyond Conventional Treatments
Unlocking the molecular characteristics of an individual’s genetics impacts their likelihood of developing or surviving particular conditions. What sets precision medicine apart from current treatment conventions is the degree of reliance on and involvement of genomic data. Granular data helps physicians make highly specific decisions on treatment plans that may essentially be more effective for patients.
Insights gleaned from harnessing genomic data are nothing short of revolutionary, even in its infancy. As focus intensifies on precision medicine, genetic testing is becoming cheaper, allowing researchers to collect large volumes of data from diverse patient groups. Consequently, clinical, pharmaceutical, and socioeconomic data, and the application of analytics, help researchers observe patterns in the effectiveness of particular treatments.
Clinical trials can then test and validate hypotheses. And if the results are positive, these will support guidelines, practices, and treatments for specific conditions.
Precision medicine is not the same as “personalized medicine”, nor does it exist. Personalized medicine suggests that completely individualized treatments are available for every patient.
This misnomer fell out of fashion, however, when former US President Barack Obama introduced the National Precision Medicine Initiative in 2015.
The Precision Medicine Initiative
Obama’s State of the Union Address in 2015 first mentioned PMI. Bipartisan support spurred the project, involving the public and private sectors, and everyday patients to share their data and participate in clinical trials.
The PMI Cohort is at the heart of PMI. This group is now calls itself the All of Us Research Program. The program’s goal is to recruit one million Americans to participate, providing researchers volumes of data to fuel their work.
Focus on Cancer
Similar to the initiatives of PMI, former US Vice President Joe Biden oversaw the launch of Cancer Moonshot in 2016. It aims to use the vast source of healthcare data to find vaccine-based immunotherapies against cancer. Like PMI, it also relies on public and private organizations to research and develop new viable treatments.
There are more initiatives and companies traversing the same path as PMI and Cancer Moonshot. There are promising drugs being developed that can treat different tumor types including lung cancer, melanoma, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and ovarian cancer. Non-invasive screening test kits to detect cancer are even available for order online. With the rapid developments in medicine, medical treatments and solutions may just be ready for consumers in the next handful of years.
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