Precision medicine promises entirely new ways to screen monitor and treat illness, looking more closely — and in ways not previously possible — at a patient’s genes, lifestyle and environment. The effort is massive, requiring a comprehensive understanding of people at a molecular level that wasn’t technologically feasible before. By gaining an understanding of patients’ unique molecular profiles, medicine will look dramatically different in the next five to 10 years.

Models of collaboration

Right now, precision medicine is enabling collaborators across many sectors (academia, life sciences, pharmaceutical, healthcare) to join forces to accelerate the movement of innovation from research labs to clinical settings. “We all have an opportunity and an obligation to collaborate,” says Dr. Corina Shtir, Head of Precision Medicine at Thermo Fisher Scientific. “Through collaboration, stakeholders can accelerate the process of delivering clinical applications and clinical solutions for use today, not just in the future.”

“We all have an opportunity and an obligation to collaborate.”

No single company or government can or will do this alone. More than ever, key industry players are joining forces in non-traditional cooperation. Efforts such as Cancer Moonshot, NCI-MATCH, TAPUR and the president’s Precision Medicine Initiative rely on intense public and private dialogue as well as sharing of data and information that rapidly advances disease prevention, detection, monitoring and treatment.

Nowhere is the demand for collaboration more evident than in the world of pediatric cancer. “People in pediatric cancer are the most collaborative on the planet,” says Dr. Timothy Triche of the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Center for Personalized Medicine, who works collaboratively with Thermo Fisher. “Previously, little was known about the gene defects that uniquely drive childhood cancer. Further, many children still don’t receive the right medicines in the right dosages because too little is understood about their unique tumor. But now we’re working with industry partners and advanced technology to change that.”

Opportunity for growth

Collaboration between different sectors — and at this scale — requires a common infrastructure that facilitates aggregation and sharing of data across all levels of healthcare. Once sharing becomes mainstream, the pathway to clinical utility is much clearer. “The right drug for the right patient is a concept that’s been around a long time,” says Dr. Carl Morrison, President of OmniSeq Precision Medicine Technology. “We’ve just needed the technologies to do that efficiently to evolve. We’re absolutely ready for prime time now.”

Companies like Thermo Fisher Scientific are well positioned to help because of what they call a “multi-omics” approach. This unites a diverse (but complementary) range of technologies related to genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, metagenomics and other disciplines that ultimately help clinicians understand each patient’s unique molecular profile. Information on molecular profiles will then be used to inform the next generation of targeted therapies. This approach generates massive amounts of data that can be used industrywide to quickly move from research to clinical application.

“Through medical advancements, we’ve found a way to make many diseases chronic that were once fatal.”

Urge for funding

With so much progress being made in the U.S. and internationally, now is not the time to pull back. If anything, funding and advocacy must increase. Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the NIH, laments the plateauing of funding because he believes “Our nation has never witnessed a time of greater promise in biomedicine.”

Slowing progress now would be a shame because new precision medicine-related diagnostics and therapies are already helping some patients survive cancer and other deadly diseases. “Through medical advancements, we’ve found a way to make many diseases chronic that were once fatal,” says Carl Morrison. “Hopefully, in the future we could at least bring cancer into the realm of chronic conditions for the majority of people with metastatic cancer.”

Innovation isn’t an end to itself, but precision medicine is now far more than just a future concept. It’s producing results that have clinical validity and utility right now.

“The measure of precision medicine progress is correlated with how many patients we’re helping now. And while it’s not nearly enough, through collaboration and ongoing investment we’re finally making real progress,” adds Dr. Corina Shtir.