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We taught an entire population that you can test yourself at home…
Could we use this type of activity for precision prevention?
Traditionally, decision-making around medical treatments have been centred on a diagnosed condition. It’s a sentence that seems somewhat ludicrous because this is simply how healthcare works, surely? An ailment is identified, and the patient is put on a treatment path. But what if the decisions taken, or drugs prescribed don’t work? When looked at from this perspective, perhaps just treating the condition in front of you isn’t quite so effective and efficient as it might be.
And this is why ‘precision medicine’ is emerging as a new way of approaching healthcare, where conditions are considered through statistics from an affected population, rather than just the illness itself. Essentially, using medical data, it is possible to make distinctions as to how conditions affect different populations of people who have them and in this way make treatment more precise. This might be as simple as adjusting medications based around genetic factors that might alter its effectiveness. Or, better still, putting preventative actions in place for patients at high risk of specific variations of a disease, such as diabetes.
Discussing the exciting potential of precision medicine in our main webinar below are Dr Ken Sutherland, President of Canon Medical Research Europe and distinguished experts in this field from the University of Glasgow in Scotland; the Regius Professor of Medicine, Dame Anna Dominiczak, and their Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences Chief Operating Officer, Dr Carol Clugston.
Ahead of the main discussion, Professor Dominiczak kindly gives us an overview that puts precision medicine into context, explaining the ‘Living Laboratory’ concept and the partnerships and wider ecosystem involved in realising precision medicine, ultimately to “become much more precise in how we describe groups of patients and large, sometimes multimillion stratas of disease. And that allows us to diagnose better, prognosticate and most importantly, give the right treatment.”
The disruptive healthcare of the future
“Precision medicine is quite a disruptive technology, a very positive disruption. And that means that it requires changes to the workflows within the NHS [the UK National Health Service],” explains says Dr Clugston. “It requires education of all the different healthcare professionals that are working in the NHS.” This education extends to the public at large, especially as in the future they may be likely to engage with precision medicine far before they even experience a symptom. “There are discussions that maybe every human being should have DNA sequence at birth, that would then be used throughout the data, medical or preventative journey,” says Professor Dominiczak. “So, we would have a situation in which electronic health records are better than now… in which all this information from rare molecular information through routine blood test to all x-rays, scans and CTs are always available to the doctor and patient.”
Taking precision medicine global
The ‘triple helix’ model, where healthcare providers work closely with academia and industry to bring the precision medicine model to life is essential to its worldwide adoption. “We need more colleagues from life sciences industry to come and join us, and to make their product – which is part of precision medicine – and export it all over the world,” explains Professor Dominiczak. “We see our role as helping this to happen. Having patients who would like to participate in clinical trials in specific precision medicine and who are happy to share data puts us in the position that the companies should come to try their great products.” It is in partnerships such as the joint work being undertaken in medical imaging between Canon Medical Research Europe and the University of Glasgow that new products supporting the field of precision medicine can come to market. The combined, but differing perspectives, priorities and approaches between healthcare providers, academia and industry contribute to a shared outcome.
The (near) future is golden
“I think we’re on the cusp of something great,” says Dr Clugston. “One of the benefits of having the living lab is that it’s allowing us to take things out of research settings and actually into real world implementation.” She believes the next two to three years will be crucial in demonstrating the benefits of precision medicine. Professor Dominiczak cautiously agrees, especially given that the pandemic has taught us that home testing is absolutely viable. “Could we use this type of activity for precision prevention, for early diagnosis for precision medicine? Could we adopt these types of interventions that are cheap and screen, millions of people?” she asks. “I think yes, the golden time is now but we need more life science industry specialists and strategy makers at national and international level to join in this thinking and to understand that this isn’t more expensive, in fact we’re saving money.” Taking the message of huge long-term cost savings to the political sphere could certainly accelerate progress. “There is still a lot of work, but the golden age could be more golden if we bring more people with us.”