Precision Medicine

Biology is developing at a rapid pace and increasingly becoming data-driven, thanks to the exponentially decreasing cost of DNA sequencing – or our ability to read the human genome. The first human genome was sequenced in 2001 when an international coalition announced the first draft. The total project cost was close to 3 billion US dollars. The same genome can now, breathtakingly, be sequenced for almost $1000. Genome data gives us a glimpse of our past (our pedigree and ethnic background), our present (from our wellness to our illnesses) and our future (diseases we are genetically more prone to have in the future as we age). Genome data also helps us ‘personalize’ medicine by understanding how different patients (of different genetic backgrounds) respond to different drugs. Adding this giant, and growing, corpus of data to digital data from hospitals (like electronic health records, images from radiology and pathology) and other new-age sources like our mobile phones, digital watches and wearable gadgets, and even digital sensors at home and at work has the potential to give us unforeseen predictive power when it comes to our health and well-being.

A recent study at the Mayo Clinic (US) has shown that there is 30% decrease in hospitalization if the patient’s genomic data is used in diagnosis. Another study has shown that (in women of 50 years and above) a 37% decrease in cost of cancer treatment is observed if genomics data is available. Research has also shown that 20% of cancer patients die because of side effects of drugs and not the diseases itself. Finally, against a global cancer survival rate of about 60%, the figure in Pakistan is a mere 30%. This clearly indicates the potential healthcare as well as economic impact of genomic data and a better understanding of  drug responses in patients.