Personalised Medicine: Pharma’s Golden Era?

Nov 26, 2012

Stephanie Sutton Pharm Tech EuropeA golden era of productivity awaits the pharmaceutical industry in 2020, according to a report from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). In an industry that seems to be dominated by headlines of job cuts and low growth, it’s a relief to hear positive news that suggests there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

With all the bad news we hear in the pharma industry, such as drugs going off patent and companies cutting back on R&D, it’s easy to overlook the advances that are being made. In particular, the PwC reportFrom Vision to Decision: Pharma 2020, explains that there have been huge leaps forward in areas such as genetics and genomics, processing power and data management tools, which gives pharma companies the ability to collect and make use of biological data in R&D.

“Every patient experience now generates rivers of data which, if pooled intelligently, can trace a detailed portrait of a patient’s health and, when aggregated with other patient data streams, can coalesce into deep reservoirs of knowledge about entire disease states and patient populations,” says an industry marketer in the report.

Even today, we’re already seeing the effects of personalised medicine. For instance, genetics have led to greater understanding of breast cancer. For years, scientists believed that breast cancer was a single disease, but now ten subtypes, each with a unique genetic fingerprint, have been identified. Improved understanding of the disease has produced new diagnostics and R&D approaches.

The genomic research firm CardioDX has also made advances in the area of coronary artery disease. The company analysed more than 100 million gene samples to identify primary predictive genes for the disease and has developed a test that can identify it in its earliest stages.

Even the complex field of Alzhemer’s disease is finally starting to see progress. Earlier this year, Pfizer’s and J&J’s Alzheimer’s drug bapineuzumab was in the headlines after the highly publicised failure of a key clinical trial. However, reports also suggested that the drug did show some signs of working, but perhaps only in an earlier stage of the disease.

Progress has also been made in other fields; for example, stem-cell therapies and gene therapies are now reaching the market. Work in epigenetics has also led to greater understanding about heritable biological elements that aren’t directly encoded into DNA. Researchers are now creating wiring diagrams of cells whose breakdown causes a particular disease. Ultimately, the work could help pharmaceutical companies to develop treatments that fix the underlying components of a disease.

Overall, the PwC report forecasts that the global pharmaceutical market could be worth nearly $1.6 trillion by 2020.

There’s still a lot to learn about the human body, but it’s important to acknowledge how far we’ve come. By 2020, we will, perhaps, start to see the rewards of the financial and intellectual investments that have been made. What developments do you think we’ll see?
Just to demonstrate how quickly advances in the scientific world can occur, I’ll leave you with this fact from the PwC report. In 2001, it cost $95 million to read an entire human genome. Today, manufacturers are developing machines that can do the same for just $1000 in a matter of hours.

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