Personalized Medicine's Transformation of Healthcare Accelerates

Posted: October 1, 2012 at 8:20 pm

SAN FRANCISCO, CA--(Marketwire - Oct 1, 2012) - The life sciences sector continued to outperform the broader markets in September, but developments during the month were notable for highlighting the acceleration of the transformation of healthcare through personalized medicine, Burrill & Company says.

"Our healthcare system is dysfunctional and has largely been unchanged through human history in its episodic approach that focuses on treating the symptoms of illness," says G. Steven Burrill, CEO of Burrill & Company, a diversified global financial services firm. "Although personalized medicine's transformation of healthcare is an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary process, the events of the past month point to a rapid acceleration of efforts to make medicine personalized, predictive, and pre-emptive and promises to bend the cost-curve of healthcare in a meaningful way."

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center's announced an ambitious $3 billion Cancer Moon Shots Program, which seeks to develop new diagnostics, devices, drugs, and policies to detect, prevent, and treat cancer by capitalizing on the convergence of low-cost sequencing, artificial intelligence, and other emerging technologies.

September also saw a number of developments on the sequencing front. Chinese sequencing giant BGI-Shenzhen announced a $117.6 million acquisition of the struggling next-generation sequencing company Complete Genomics. Mountain View, California-based Complete Genomics, which has been working to provide whole genome sequencing through a service-based business model, announced a restructuring in June that included a shift in focus to the development of clinical applications for its whole genome sequencing service. BGI-Shenzhen provides deep pockets that should accelerate the clinical applications of Complete Genomic's technology.

Complete Genomics' larger competitors also announced developments that should accelerate the clinical utility of genomic sequencing. Life Technologies began shipping its low-cost Ion Proton sequencing system. The company said the chip-based system cost about a third of genome scale sequencing systems that rely on light to read a genome. The device sits on a desktop and can sequence exomes and transcriptomes in two to four hours at a cost of $1,000 per run. Life Technologies next expects to release a second-generation chip for the system around the end of the first quarter of 2013 that will be able to sequence the human genome in a few hours for $1,000.

At the same time, the genetic sequencing tools company Illumina and the non-profit healthcare system Partners Healthcare announced an agreement to provide geneticists and pathologists networking tools and infrastructure to report and interpret data from genetic sequencing. By pairing Illumina's expertise in sequencing with Partners Healthcare's understanding of what's needed for clinical utility, the two hope to leverage each other's strengths to deliver a comprehensive sequencing and clinical reporting solution.

Others are also taking steps to apply new personalized medicine approaches to clinical care. The Big Data analytics company GNS Healthcare in September announced a new program with the healthcare insurance company Aetna to use GNS' supercomputing capabilities to help identify Aetna members at risk for heart and metabolic disorders that can result in stroke, heart attack or diabetes, earlier than it does today. GNS will develop data-driven models that will define a person's risk for developing metabolic syndrome using Aetna claims data as well as health records. A separate agreement between GNS and the contract research organization Covance seeks to improve drug development by using GNS' modeling to predict the safety and efficacy of a drug candidate against different patient characteristics.

On the research side, September also saw major advances in understanding the genetics underlying disease. The Encode Project, an ambitious international effort to characterize and publish all of the functional elements in the human genome, found that the 80 percent of DNA once thought of as "junk" actually plays a critical role in regulating genes and can also play a part in the onset of disease. Researchers identified more than 4,000 switches involved in gene regulation. The findings not only create a new understanding of the role of some 80 percent of DNA once thought to serve no functional role, but also provide a new source of potential targets for drugs, and new insight into how genes are regulated and how people become ill.

Separately, a collaborative effort funded by the National Cancer Institute and the National Human Genome Research Institute, using data generated as part of The Cancer Genome Atlas, has provided a new understanding of the four major subtypes of breast cancer and finds shared genetic features between the form of breast cancer known as "Basal-like" or "Triple Negative" breast cancer and serious ovarian cancer. The findings will lead to researchers comparing treatments and outcomes for patients with the two forms of cancer and could lead to new therapeutic approaches.

"With new research findings we are reminded about how much we still don't know, but also of the rapid progress we are making," says Burrill. "We are seeing real examples of personalized medicine moving from idea to practice in meaningful ways."

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Personalized Medicine's Transformation of Healthcare Accelerates

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