Thematic Report

Global Healthcare: Precision Rx

by Shaun Cochran / Feb 13, 2018

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Targeted medicine delivers freedom from pill-fits-all

Highly targeted treatments that factor in a patient’s genes, environment and lifestyle are incredibly exciting. The nascent field of precision medicine stands at the intersection of genomics, big data, artificial intelligence and Crispr. While initial implementations such as CAR-T cancer therapy and genomic prenatal screening are expensive, these new models can deliver profound diagnostic and treatment improvements.

Genomics meets AI

Since the late 1800s, the field of genetics had been analysing what were often only theoretical relationships between specific genes and hereditary traits. That was, until a profound event in 2003: the first draft of a complete human genome. This gave birth to a revolution that is still upending the way we look at human health. Today, modern genomics enables us to understand the precise details of any organism’s entire record of its DNA: the genome. This is the code that defines every biological aspect of every living organism.

Birth of precision medicine

The typical patient often misses the tyranny of averages embedded in standard medical practice. Classic diagnostic and treatment models are based on symptoms and treatment responses of the “average” patient who, in reality, does not exist. In contrast, precision medicine seeks to factor in individual variability in genes, environment and lifestyle. As such, we are fast approaching a world where patients diagnosed with the same disease might not just be prescribed different dosages, but entirely different treatments due to their DNA sequencing.

Crispr adds accelerant

In parallel with these genomics breakthroughs, the rapid development of Crispr technologies (our new-found ability to edit DNA) is opening new frontiers in treatment possibilities. Crispr differs from all previous gene-editing technologies because it is cheaper, faster and more modular. It allows scientists to target where edits occur within an organism’s genome with far greater precision and flexibility than was previously possible. With human trials only just beginning, new revolutionary treatments are likely to emerge within a decade.