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Healthcare – On the Threshold of Innovation

Technological convergence will improve health unprecedentedly while boosting consumers’ involvement

Healthcare – On the Threshold of Innovation

In 2003, IBM published Pharma 2010: The Threshold of Innovation, a document that projected how the company thought the pharmaceutical industry would evolve. The report predicted that the delivery of pharmaceuticals would be based on diagnostic tests and monitoring devices that tailored drugs to individual responses. New tools for discovery and development, in IBM’s view of the world, would cut development cost by three quarters and halve the time.

Not bad as predictions go. Their vision, in fact, reinforced Burrill & Company’s concept, which we introduced in that year’s annual report on the biotechnology industry, that the progress being made in genomics and in systems biology was moving us to a world of more personalized medicine that embraced predictability and prevention and away from “one size fits all” drugs. In the predictive phase, a doctor determines a patient’s probability of developing certain diseases through genome sequencing and blood tests. The price of such tests is dropping fast and will soon be less than $1,000. Prevention is then based on an individualized risk profile so that therapies can be tailored to cut the likelihood or severity of illness. Personalized medicine will be guided by billions of genetic data points stored on an individualized chip for every patient. Prediction, prevention and personalization—those would be the three Ps of healthcare.

There is no doubt that in the intervening period, personalized medicine has made remarkable progress. The impact of such new disciplines as genomics on the development of more targeted and personalized therapeutics and diagnostics is now beginning to be felt. The importance of personalized medicine is also being acknowledged by governments and drug developers alike. Leroy Hood, president of the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, for example, embraces the idea of personalized medicine and believes that the $2.3 trillion U.S. healthcare system’s inefficiency and ineffectiveness can be cured by a focus on not only the three Ps that we introduced, but by a fourth: a “participatory” phase, in which people will participate in maintaining their own wellness, not just by treating existing illnesses but by learning about their own predispositions and taking responsibility to keep themselves healthy.

We know that we have to do a better job, through lifestyle changes and improvements in our healthcare system, to halt the growth of chronic diseases and the economic burden on the baby boomers, their families, employers, and federal and state governments.

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