How precision medicine will make healthcare cheaper

With the growth of knowledge and understanding of genetics, two things have become clear: people’s genetic differences may lead to different responses to treatments, and more precisely, personalized treatment plans could improve patient health outcomes and reduce healthcare costs significantly.

The cost of healthcare has consistently outpaced economic growth by an average of 2% in OECD countries for the past 50 years. The continued growth of precision medicine can help curb this trend. When applied to individualized chronic disease management, it can reduce hospital admissions and speed up discharge through integrated care solutions and personalized treatment plans adjusted in real time. And thanks to remote monitoring solutions, care could be provided in lower acuity settings, including the home.

Fast progress in genomics, proteomics (the science that explains how messenger molecules use genome information to trigger the production of proteins), gene therapies and regenerative medicine is being made, paving the way for the continued growth of this exciting field of medicine.

Advances in 3D bioprinting technology from companies like Organovo have led to the creation of tissues that mimic key aspects of native tissues. As a result, we may soon see the end of animal and human tissue use in clinical trials. In the longer term, it could create opportunities to “copy and paste” a patient’s tissues to create replacement organs from their own cellular material, further eliminating the need to determine compatibility with the receiver.

Following a surge of high-profile publications on CRISPR/Cas9, the new technology that can add, disrupt or change the sequence of specific genes, genome editing has emerged as one of the most exciting new areas of scientific research. These recent advances have made it possible to modify, in a targeted way, almost any gene in the human body with the ability to directly turn on, turn off or edit disease-causing genes. There is hardly anything more targeted than modifying your own genome to eliminate the cause of the disease as opposed to addressing the symptoms.

Another example that highlights immense progress in proteomics: with less than one drop of blood, we are now able to reveal which viral antibodies a patient is carrying. New tests are able to survey the antibodies present in a person’s bloodstream to reveal a history of the viruses they’ve been infected with throughout their life. The method could be useful not only for diagnosing current and past illnesses, but for developing vaccines and studying links between viruses and chronic disease. Additionally, the history of viral infection revealed by these tests can help to better explain host immunity and better target treatments for complex diseases such as Type I diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease and asthma.

Finally, digital medicine platforms like those being developed by Proteus Digital Health are improving our monitoring and measuring of medication adherence during treatment plans. Platforms being built today include measurement tools like sensor-enabled pills, a peel-and-stick biometric sensor patch worn on the body, and smartphone apps. The patch records when a pill is ingested and also tracks other things like sleep patterns and physical activity levels. Monitoring real-time compliance to treatment, and ultimately the ability to correlate compliance with improvement in vital signs, could well be another critical tool to constantly adjust treatment protocols that ultimately create the best possible patient outcome.

These innovations point to the potential for a new age in healthcare – one of personalized medicine that can improve patient health outcomes, and reduced healthcare costs to sustainable levels. However, we also need some big changes in regulatory frameworks, pricing models and doctor incentive schemes to make this new paradigm of care possible.

The Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2015 is taking place in Dalian, China, from 9-11 September.

This piece originally appeared in China Daily

Author: Arnaud Bernaert, Head of Global Health and Healthcare Industries, Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum

Image: Twelve-year-old Leon McCarthy (R) rests his prosthetic hand on a MarkerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer, while talking to the company’s CEO Bre Pettis, at the new MakerBot store in Boston, Massachusetts November 21, 2013. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Leave a Reply