Big data, artificial intelligence, and predictive analytics: Commonly heard and often misunderstood terms that invisibly touch many aspects of our daily lives. From navigating the morning commute to shopping online, advances in technology, and the ability to capture,evaluate, and apply learnings from vast amounts of data are making things faster, easier, and more customized to our individual needs. And yet, in one of the most significant and personal aspects of our lives, our health, we’re only just starting to pursue the full range of what’s possible.
The concept of personalization in healthcare, such as matching each patient with the right treatment, is not new. But its definition is evolving. 2018 marks two decades since Genentech received FDA approval for the first “personalized medicine”, offering a more targeted treatment approach for certain breast cancer patients with a specific genetic mutation of the disease. And scientific progress has continued exponentially since then with advances in biomarker research, new gene therapies, and a record 16 FDA personalized medicine approvals in 2017. Today, with the rise of new technologies and unprecedented amounts of data, we have the potential to amplify these scientific advances and redefine personalized healthcare – progressing from treatments for segments of patients to truly individualized therapies.
By harnessing our understanding of disease biology; next generation sequencing and diagnostics; and new modalities for tracking outcomes, aggregating data at scale, analyzing, and sharing insights, we are now on the cusp of customizing treatment plans for the individual patient to achieve better outcomes and potentially lower side effects.
For each of us that means a future of care where we can understand what is actually happening within our bodies. We can make treatment decisions based on what has and has not worked for others like us – comparing genetic profiles, health histories, and lifestyles. Then, we can track our response to treatment in real-time so that adjustments can be made quickly along the way.
It’s exciting to see the major components of this transformation coming together under one virtual roof within the Roche Group – from advanced diagnostics and insights generated by companies at the forefront of genomic analysis like Foundation Medicine, to the curation of regulatory grade real-world data at Flatiron, and the continued pursuit of insight-driven research and development to deliver highly targeted medicines.
But my enthusiasm is also tempered by a healthy dose of reality. There’s a reason why the healthcare industry hasn’t already transformed itself. It requires a holistic approach and fundamental changes to the whole system. We must learn to share information across multiple disparate platforms, while protecting patient privacy. We must leverage the power of real-world data in clinical trials to help bring innovations to patients faster, without compromising rigorous safety and efficacy standards. And we must find ways to leverage that same data to create reimbursement models that recognize innovation, reward outcomes, and ensure access for all.
It’s challenging work that requires bold action and novel collaborations, but it’s happening. And now that the long-awaited promise of truly personalized healthcare is within reach; there has never been a greater opportunity for us to come together and make it real.