By Kayla Matthews, freelance journalist, Productivity Bytes.
Precision medicine involves formulating treatments for individualized patients, typically with genetic sequencing that could shed light on the underlying causes of disease. It’s an amazing idea that could substantially reduce the likelihood of the same treatment curing one person and failing to help another.
However, some things still hold precision medicine back. Here are six ways it could advance.
1. Lower Research and Development Costs
Statistics indicate precision medicine is gaining momentum. For example, 70% of cancer drugs in development are precision-based, and 20% of research and development in the pharmaceutical sector relates to precision medicine.
Those are promising signs, but cost remains a significant factor that slows down the advancement of precision medicine. The research and development associated with it is more expensive than standard approaches because it involves genetic testing. Companion testing is often required to find biomarkers, as well as marker-negative patients.
Securing financial backing can be tricky, especially if investors or the financial decision-makers at pharmaceutical companies are still dubious about precision medicine’s potential.
2. More Patient Education
Many patients have heard about precision medicine in passing, but they don’t know what it entails or how to avail of it. Intermountain Healthcare, a Utah-based health system with nearly two dozen locations, found that a lack of patient education restricted its adoption of precision medicine. The organization began automatically referring metastatic cancer patients to a research clinic that used precision medicine.
There, patients had access to a proprietary system that checked for more than 160 genetic mutations associated with cancer by examining portions of a person’s genetic code. Then, people from a molecular tumor board interpreted the results, guiding doctors in setting up treatment plans for their patients.
This approach gives patients access to precision medicine when they could likely benefit from it. Then, their experience with and education about precision medicine is firsthand instead of hearsay.
3. A Better Infrastructure to Analyze Data
Correctly implementing precision medicine requires a health system to have a robust infrastructure capable of processing and analyzing data. A report published by the California Precision Medicine Advisory Committee acknowledged some positive tech developments, such as advancements in cloud computing and distributed networking.
However, the group also determined that substantial investments in data infrastructure will have to occur for precision medicine to gain traction. The group accounted for things like the cost of moving toward a cloud computing system, plus the resources needed to analyze data and store patient records securely.
Moreover, the report’s authors stressed the need to factor data science talent into infrastructure requirements. The people hired would need experience analyzing life science data for precision medicine to reach its potential.
4. More Patient Diversity
There’s a diversity problem that must be overcome concerning genomic research. In one study where researchers analyzed the test subjects for more than 2,500 research papers addressing human genomics, only 19% of the participants had non-European ancestry. Broadening future participant pools so they are more diverse is crucial.
Scientists know that some ethnic groups seem to have genetic variants associated with some diseases. If most of the research about their ailments does not include people from the same ethnicities, the conclusions made about precision medicine’s overall worthiness may be inaccurate.
Researchers caution that disease disparities among ethnic groups could get worse if people from those populations are overlooked by precision medicine. Gaining a richer understanding of their genomic specifics could be essential for developing interventions that more effectively prevent and treat disease.
5. Getting Insurers to Cover Precision Medicine-Related Care
People who’ve tried to seek reimbursement for medical care that falls outside the norm may have been told by their insurance companies that the alternative treatment is not medically necessary. That could happen with precision medicine, too, especially since it’s still a developing technology.
Illumina is a biotechnology company that specializes in genomics and molecular diagnostics. The firm’s representatives know insurance reimbursement remains a challenge for precision medicine to tackle. They seek to prove that using genetic sequencing in a patient’s treatment strategy can improve outcomes and positively change the care received.
The company actively engages with insurers, as well as with the groups working to compile evidence about precision medicine’s benefits compared to conventional options. When communicating with payers, the company’s priority is to present evidence of patient benefits. As the decision-makers at insurance companies get more acquainted with precision medicine, they may see it’s in their best interest to pay for it.
Precision medicine may, indeed, be more expensive in some regards. It could also reduce or eliminate putting patients through costly treatments that will not work for them.
6. More Time for Physicians to Receive Training
Many physicians are not up to speed on the possibilities associated with precision medicine, and they are not yet equipped to incorporate it into their practices. Sometimes, that means if patients get some of the direct-to-consumer genetic tests done and show up to doctor’s appointments with questions about their results, the providers will not have adequate answers.
The training that physicians receive will also need to encompass how precision medicine requires providing care differently than in the past. It means physicians may not solely rely on their experience to treat patients, but will look at genetic data about them first.
Doctors are already very busy people, and they may balk at having to free up time in their schedules for training. However, health care providers usually have to go through a required number of hours’ worth of education to keep their licenses valid. It would be helpful if it were mandated that some of those relate to precision medicine.
These Are Not Unsurmountable Barriers
The health care industry cannot deal with these challenges overnight. However, being aware of the difficulties and working to manage them progressively could pay off.