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Precision Medicine: How is it Evolving, and What Do Pharma Organisations Need to Know?

The approach to clinical treatment has often been associated with a trial-and-error approach, which can be costly, lengthy, and often inaccurate.

With this has come the rise of precision medicine, through healthcare innovations that were accelerated during the pandemic.

These changes could have drastic, significant implications for the pharmaceutical industry in terms of the efficiency and effectiveness of clinical trials, the approach to treating and preventing worldwide diseases, and the way in which we approach our health as a society.

How exactly is precision medicine evolving, and what do pharmaceutical organisations need to know about the future of the industry as a result?

An overview of precision medicine

As general advances in technology have evolved, so too has the approach toward the treatment and prevention of diseases.

Due to technology, a patient’s full medical profile can now include genetic data, medical history, and lifestyle and environmental factors – precision medicine uses this data to create a customised, tailored treatment for each individual.

Interest in precision medicine is rising, with the global precision medicine market growing at a CAGR of 11.5% over the forecast period of 2021 to 2030.

Data-driven healthcare isn’t a new concept. However, the amount of data available, particularly due to the use of ‘multi-omics’ – genomes, proteomes, transcriptomes, epigenomes, microbiomes – in research has influenced the trajectory of precision medicine.

Europe is the second largest revenue-generation region for the precision medicine market, primarily due to the adoption of gene therapy and an ageing population, alongside investments in research and development (R&D) and the rising incidence of chronic illnesses.

As big data analytics continue to evolve, more opportunities will arise for the precision medicine market, and demand will continue to grow for targeted therapies and medicines.

The use of data

Data collection has expanded at a population level, with more data points than ever before to inform precision medicine.

Advances in big data, genomic testing, and artificial intelligence (AI) have all contributed to these advances, providing an even larger volume of medical data that previously was unavailable in precision medicine research.

There has been talk of a digital revolution in healthcare, and with approximately 30% of the world’s data volume being generated by the healthcare industry, it’s no surprise why this is the case.

By 2025, it is estimated that the CAGR of data for healthcare will reach 36%, which is 6% faster than manufacturing and 10% faster than financial services.

Roche, for example, acquired Flatiron Health and the remaining stake in Foundation Medicine (for $1.9bn and $2.4bn respectively), now having access to genomic data from thousands of oncology patients.

This could provide a continuous data loop for Roche, from the stage of identifying a patient to monitoring outcomes after treatment selection.

Healthcare technology

Wearable medical devices and healthcare technology are on the rise.

Deloitte Global predicted that 320 million consumer health and wellness wearable devices would ship worldwide in 2022, reaching nearly 440 million units by 2024 as more offerings become available to the market and healthcare providers become more comfortable with their use.

Items such as smartwatches that are already vastly popular are beginning to adapt to have more advanced capabilities, with heart monitors already being standard on many smartwatches and being able to detect potential abnormalities.

During the pandemic, smartwatches that measured blood oxygen saturation (SpO2) became more widely available, alerting people with low SpO2, which would otherwise be difficult for people to detect by themselves.

Digital health technologies (DHTs) – devices, products, and advanced technologies such as robotics – are making the creation, processing, and transmission of health data easier than ever.

Countries such as Germany are addressing digitalisation as a priority, with the Digital Healthcare Act, which provides reimbursement for health apps as well as for other DHTs.

Though uptake for such funding and reimbursement across Europe is slow, this is likely to change as DHTs become more popular and precision medicine adapts and evolves.

Major strides in disease treatment
As evidenced by the mRNA vaccine, there have been significant changes in the development of vaccines and treatments in the healthcare/pharma space.

Due to these recent technological advances, personalised mRNA vaccines for cancer could be developed in a short timeframe, though precision medicine is still very much in the early stages.

Potential developments have shown through numerous animal and human trials using mRNA cancer vaccines that there is promise in the technology, opening up the opportunity to discover new treatment options for rarer diseases that lack the standard treatment protocol of more common ailments.

Boosting drug discovery

Big pharma companies are increasingly active in collecting genomic datasets to boost their drug discovery efforts.

AstraZeneca, for example, has begun compiling genome sequences and health records from two million people over the next decade to unearth rare genetic sequences associated with disease and responses to treatment.

The scale of a project of this nature is unprecedented, from both the number of participants and the method of partnering with various research institutions, such as the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxston, UK, and Human Longevity, a biotech company founded in San Diego, California.

This project is emblematic of a wider trend in genetics research, shifting away from pursuing a common variation in human DNA sequences linked to complex diseases, and instead, focusing on the contribution of unusual genetic variants to disease.

Going forward

Precision medicine is still in its early stages of development.

However, given the rapid digital transformation that has taken place in the pharmaceutical industry, in many ways due to the pandemic response, elements of precision medicine may be permeating the industry much faster than previously thought.

As more healthcare data becomes accessible (and wider discussions are had and legislation placed around the security of this data), individualised treatment and prevention of diseases and ailments will become more commonplace.

For the pharmaceutical industry, it’s not a case of if or when this change will happen, but more so how it will happen.

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