The quest for moving away from conventional and error-prone ‘Disease Oriented Treatment’ paving the way for unconventional individual patient-specific ones, may soon come to fruition. Dramatic progress in the research for developing ‘Personalized Medicines’ could soon offer a choice for individual ‘Patient Oriented Treatment’ with precisely predictable efficacy and safety, especially for the treatment of various intractable and dreaded diseases.
Sir John Bell, Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, adviser on genetics to the government and chair of its human genomics strategy group has reportedly said in early December 2012 that ‘Personalized Medicine’ for all could soon be a clear possibility, as everybody will be able to have their entire DNA make-up mapped for as little as £100 (Rs.8, 700 approx.).
This estimate seems to be quite realistic as Sir John said, the price of genome sequencing has fallen by 100,000-fold in 10 years and genetics being a key component of all common diseases, genome sequencing will help immensely in the use of new drugs, as well.
Raising a flag:
While watching the pursuit of excellence by the genetic scientists in the realm of disease treatment, some experts have reportedly been sounding a note of caution. They strongly feel that DNA code sequencing brings to light a “very real privacy concerns” of individuals.
GeneWatch UK, is an organization that investigate how genetic science and technologies will impact on our food, health, agriculture, environment and society. They have been strongly arguing, if genome sequencing is extended to entire population, individuals and their relatives could then be identified and tracked by matching their DNA with the genome stored in the respective health records. This move, as contemplated by them, could “wipe out privacy” with an impact on the society.
Thus, the ethical and social issues in the development of ‘Personalized medicines’ primarily in the area of genetic testing and consideration of race in the development of such medicines, these thought leaders feel, need to be effectively addressed, sooner.
That said, the Prime Minister of UK Mr David Cameron has reportedly said:
“By unlocking the power of DNA data, the NHS will lead the global race for better tests, better drugs and above all better care. We are turning an important scientific breakthrough into a potentially life-saving reality for NHS patients across the country. If we get this right, we could transform how we diagnose and treat our most complex diseases not only here but across the world, while enabling our best scientists to discover the next wonder drug or breakthrough technology.”
Increasingly more in development pipeline:
Rapid strides in pharmacogenomics bring in a promise of radically different ways of treating diseases, as major pharmaceutical companies of the world make progress in developing much more effective medicines designed to target smaller populations.
Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development (Tufts University) in its publication named ‘Impact Report’, November/December 2010 articulated, “Bio-pharmaceutical companies are committed to researching and developing personalized medicines and within their development pipelines, 12% – 50% of compounds are personalized medicines.”
Experts envisage that over a period of time ‘Personalized Medicines’ will be targeted to biological/genomic profile of a patient or patient types to significantly improve the quality of treatment.
The above report defines Personalized Medicines as “Tailoring of medical treatment and delivery of health care to individual characteristics of each patient, including their genetic, molecular, imaging and other personal determinants. Using this approach has the potential to speed accurate diagnosis, decrease side effects, and increase the likelihood that a medicine will work for an individual patient.”
Mainly due to all these reasons, ‘Personalized Medicines’ are expected to be an effective alternative to quite unwieldy current ‘blockbuster drug’ business model.
Makes a perfect fit:
The aim of ‘personalized medicines’ is, therefore, to make a perfect fit between the drug and the patient. It is worth noting that genotyping is currently not a part of clinically accepted routine. However, it is expected to acquire this status in the western world, very shortly.
Consequent changes and shifts:
This potential paradigm shift in the healthcare space would prompt similar changes in various disease diagnostic technologies, which will not only be able to detect a disease well before appearance of symptoms, but would also indicate which patients will best respond to or be adversely affected by which medications.
‘Personalized Medicines’ will in that process ensure a critical shift from the ‘Disease Oriented Treatment’ to a ‘Patient Oriented Treatment’, which can be initiated even before the clinical manifestations of a disease are detected.
The technological march towards this direction is indeed risky and arduous one. However, the benefits that the humanity will accrue out of this disruptive innovation will far outweigh the risks in all forms.
Towards this direction:
- The Economist, March 12-18, 2011 in its article titled “Toward the 15-minute genome” reported that ‘nanopore sequencing’ of human genome is now gaining momentum. This could make sequencing of entire genome of cancerous and healthy cells possible to accurately point out what has exactly changed in individual patients, enabling the oncologists to determine patient specific drugs for best possible results in each case, separately.
- New cancer marker has been reported to aid earlier detection of the disease, where repetitive stretches of RNA are found in high concentrations in cancer cells.
- A new blood test will accurately detect early cancer of all types with an accuracy of greater than 95%, when repeated the accuracy will even be even greater than 99%.
- ‘Breast On A Chip’ will test nano-medical detection and treatment options for breast cancer.
- A brain scan will detect the telltale “amyloid plaques” ,the protein fragments that accumulate between nerves in Alzheimer’s disease.
A difference that matters:
With ‘Personalized Medicines’ the health of a patient will be managed based on personal characteristics of the individual, including height, weight, diet, age, sex etc. instead of defined “standards of care”, based on averaging response across a patient group. Pharmacogenomics tests like, sequencing of human genome will determine a patient’s likely response to such drugs.
All these are expected to offer more targeted and effective treatment with much safer drugs, and in all probability at a lesser real cost. Such medicines will also help identify individuals prone to serious ailments like, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer and help physicians to take appropriate preventive measures, simultaneously.
Each patient is unique:
‘Personalized medicines’ in that process will focus on what makes each patient so unique, instead of going by the generalities of a disease.
To give a quick example, genetic differences within individuals determine how their bodies react to drugs such as Warfarin – a blood thinner taken to prevent clotting. It is of utmost importance to get the dosing right, as more of the drug will cause bleeding and less of it will not have any therapeutic effect.
‘Personalized medicines’, therefore, have the potential to usher in a revolutionary change, the way patients are offered treatment by the medical profession. Genomic research will enable physicians to use a patient’s genetic code to arrive at how each patient will respond to different types of available treatments.
In the field of cancer, genetic tests are currently being done by many oncologists to determine which patients will be benefited most, say by Herceptin, in the treatment of breast cancer.
Some companies, both well known and little known, are making quiet collaborative progress in the genome sequencing area in India, which will ultimately make expensive treatments like cancer more affordable to many.
The expected benefits from the ‘Personalized Medicines’, besides very early diagnosis as stated above, are the following:
1. More Accurate Dosing: Instead of dose being decided based on age and body weight of the patients, the physicians may decide and adjust the dose of the medicines based on the genetic profiling of the patients.
2. More Targeted Drugs: It will be possible for the pharmaceutical companies to develop and market drugs for patients with specific genetic profiles. In that process, a drug needs to be tested only on those who are likely to derive benefits from it. This in turn will be able to effectively tailor clinical trials, expediting the process of market launch of these drugs.
3. Improved Healthcare: ‘Personalized Medicines’ will enable the physicians to prescribe ‘the right dose of the right medicine the first time for everyone’ without any trial or error. This would give rise to much better overall healthcare.
Reduced Clinical Trial cost:
Genome sequencing will help identifying a patient population, which will be far more likely to respond positively to the new treatment. In that process, if it reduces costs of clinical trial by even 5%, expected net savings for the industry towards clinical trial in real term will be significant.
With ‘personalized medicines’ the innovator companies will be able to significantly reduce both time, costs and the risks involved in obtaining regulatory approvals and penetrating new markets with simultaneous development of necessary diagnostic tests. Such tests will be able to identify patients group who will not only most likely to be benefited from such medicines, but also will be least likely to suffer from adverse drug reactions.
Therefore, considerable cost advantages coupled with much lesser risks of failure and significant reduction in the lead time for clinical trials are expected to make ‘personalized medicines’ much more cost effective, compared to conventional ‘blockbuster drugs’.
A sustainable business model:
Realization of deficiencies in the deep-pocket economics of ‘block buster drug R&D business model’ has made ‘personalized medicines’ a reality today. Large number of smaller and exclusive markets for ‘personalized medicines’ is also expected to be quite profitable for the pharmaceutical companies. On the other hand, better efficacy and safety profile of ‘personalized medicines’ will prove to be cost-effective in the overall healthcare systems.
However, smaller segmentation of the market may not leave enough space for the conventional ‘blockbuster model’, which is the prime mover of the global pharmaceutical industry, even today.
Reports indicate that some renowned global pharmaceutical companies like, Roche, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline are making good progress towards this direction through collaborative initiatives.
A different marketing ball game:
With ‘personalized medicines’ the ball game of marketing pharmaceuticals is expected to undergo a paradigm shift. Roche’s model of combining necessary diagnostic tests with new drugs will play a very important role in the new ball game.
Roche is reportedly ensuring that with accompanying required diagnostic tests, the new oncology products developed at Genentech can be precisely matched to patients.
Use in ‘Primary Care’:
Currently there is no widely successful model for use of ‘personalized medicines’ in a ‘primary care’ situation. However, it has been reported that in states like, Wisconsin in the U.S, initiative to integrate genomic medicines with ‘primary care’ has already been undertaken.
Scaling-up operations of such pilot projects will give a big boost to revolutionize the use of ‘personalized medicines’ for precision and targeted treatment for the ailing population.
Though these are still the early days, initial benefits of ‘personalized medicines’ are now being reported in many areas like:
- Genetic analysis of patients dealing with blood clots: Since 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been recommending genotyping for all patients being assessed for therapy involving Warfarin.
- Colorectal cancer: For colon cancer patients, the biomarker that predicts how a tumor will respond to certain drugs is a protein encoded by the KRAS gene, which can now be determined through a simple test.
- Breast cancer: Women with breast tumors can now be effectively screened to determine which receptors their tumor cells contain.
Above applications of ‘personalized medicines’ will help saving not only significant expenses, but also precious time, which is usually spent for ‘trial-and-error treatments’. In addition, this approach also helps clinicians to determine quickly which therapies are most likely to succeed.
A truly patient centric treatment approach:
Generally speaking, unlike conventional ‘one size fits all’ type treatment approach, where same medicine with varying efficacy is tried on a large number of patients with equally varying rates of failure, ‘personalized medicines’ in true sense starts with the patients.
This may not necessarily mean unique treatment for each patient every time. With ‘personalized medicine’-based treatment approach, depending on biological, genetic and genomic characteristics, patients can be divided into groups and targeted treatment with specific drugs showing most efficacy and least side-effects can be worked out for each of these groups. Hence ‘personalized medicines’ by all means are truly patient centric.
One of the key issues today in the realm of conventional ‘Disease Oriented Treatment’ is that lot many drugs do not work on significantly large number of patients with same efficacy and safety standards. ‘Personalized medicines’ will be able to address this issue with right diagnosis, ensuring treatment with the right medicine in right doses for the right type of patients.
Though in Europe and to some extent in the US, ‘Patient Oriented Treatment’ approaches with ‘personalized medicines’ have already been initiated, these are still early days for this novel concept to get translated into reality for wider use.
Lot many grounds may still need to be covered especially in the areas of medical research and also to work out the regulatory pathways for ‘personalized medicines’ in healthcare by the pioneers of this great concept.
That said, the evolving transition from the conventional ‘Disease Oriented Treatment’ to unconventional ‘Patient Oriented Treatment’ seems to be irreversible now.
By: Tapan J Ray
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion and also do not contribute to any other blog or website with the same article that I post in this website. Any such act of reproducing my articles, which I write in my personal capacity, in other blogs or websites by anyone is unauthorized and prohibited.