America 2.0 Explained: Precision Medicine
Precision medicine is a new approach to diagnosing, treating and even preventing diseases and health conditions that takes into account an individual’s unique biological, genetic, environmental and/or lifestyle factors.
This mega trend is aimed at designing more personalized therapeutic approaches than traditional “one size fits all” health care.
What Is Precision Medicine?
The U.S. health system currently uses single therapeutic techniques — such as cholesterol-lowering drugs or chemotherapy agents — to treat hundreds of millions of people with a particular condition, regardless of individual variations.
But research shows most drugs only benefit a fraction of the people who take them — around 20%, just one person in five.
However, precision medicine allows for personalized care that takes into account those individual variations, increasing its effectiveness.
In some cases, precision medicine doctors work with drug companies to develop a single drug or therapy used to treat only one patient based on their unique genetic and biological characteristics.
Paul Mampilly hails precision medicine as the most exciting and promising health care trend to emerge in decades — as significant as the invention of the polio vaccine, antibiotics and flu shots.
It’s one of the major mega trends driving what Mampilly predicts will be a Fourth Industrial Revolution — what he calls America 2.0.
As a result, precision medicine offers a hugely profitable investment for individuals who buy into companies embracing and advancing the science and tech driving this new era of health care.
In this way, doctors can diagnose conditions by the genetic fingerprint of a disease — providing a more precise prescription for treatment that moves beyond trial-and-error medicine.
In fact, cancer experts say we may soon stop classifying cancer cases based on where they originate — breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer. Instead, we’ll identify them by the DNA signature of the tumor.
What’s Driving Precision Medicine?
Several major fields of medical science and health care are fueling the rise of precision medicine. But three major factors are prime movers for this trend:
- Genetic advances: Genetics helps tailor therapies to a patient’s unique biological makeup, and the new world of health care is now within reach.
In the past year, genetic medicine has reached a critical tipping point, with DNA testing becoming nearly as common as standard blood tests. About 17 million Americans have undergone DNA testing through services such as 23andMe and Ancestry.com, and those numbers are rising.
In addition, researchers and companies have made huge advances in whole-genome genetic sequencing — where a person’s entire genetic code is mapped.
To put this in perspective, the first sequencing of the human genome cost roughly $2.7 billion in 2003. That fell to $300,000 in 2006 and $1,000 in 2014. So, today’s $100 whole-genome sequencing (WGS) test is a remarkable milestone.
It will lead to new ways to diagnose and treat the chronic diseases that account for 75% of health care costs. A recent market analysis projects 60 million people will opt for WGS testing by 2025 — up from about 1 million at the end of of 2018, a 5,900% increase. Another 170 million will undergo 23andMe-type DNA testing by 2022. That’s nearly half the U.S. population!
So, with DNA testing, we’ll soon be able to know the genetic blueprint of every person — providing enormous opportunities to develop new, DNA-based therapies and giving doctors the means to diagnose and treat their patients with more precise and effective drugs.
- Big Data: The genetics revolution and expanding use of electronic health records (EHRs) are creating astonishing sets of databases and medical records that doctors, hospitals and researchers can plug into.
These Big Data storehouses allow researchers to mine and search that medical info to develop new drugs. They also help researchers identify genetic, biological and lifestyle factors that flag risks for certain conditions.
On the back end, these databases create a global medical library that doctors and clinicians can use to see how new and existing treatments are likely to work for certain patients.
Having this information at their fingertips gives doctors the ability to tailor therapies for their patients instead of giving the same drug to every patient with a particular condition.
This is critical because no two patients with the same condition respond to a drug in exactly the same way.
- Internet of Things: Without an easy way to deliver and access all of the new data being generated by the genetics revolution and expansion of EHRs, these advances aren’t much use.
That’s where the Internet of Things (IoT) comes in. Web-based applications have transformed a handful of industries to make the things we do cheaper, better and more convenient.
Thanks to the IoT, every device used on heart patients will soon connect to the internet, including things such as pacemakers, defibrillators, stents and valves.
Soon, we’ll take smart pills, get implants and apply all kinds of improvements in the testing and tracking of disease.
- Wearables: The first wave of fitness trackers, like Fitbits and the Apple Watch, have given way to a wide variety of monitoring devices — including tattoo-like patches, jewelry, glasses, headsets and even clothing.
This wearable tech can do more than just track your steps or sleep patterns. Advanced sensor technology has allowed devices to monitor more specific medical data such as your heart function, circulation, oxygen levels, temperature, fertility, glucose and even sun exposure.
Because these devices connect to the internet, they provide real-time health tracking. For instance, when a diabetic needs insulin or someone’s heartbeat signals distress, the user receives an alert. These are just the first applications of this new tech.
Research shows that wearables are set to become a $51.6 billion market by 2021, with an annual growth rate of almost 16%. That’s massive growth, and it’s happening right now.
- Telehealth. IoT applications are also driving remarkable advances in telemedicine that go beyond simply allowing patients to chat with their doctors via video.
The next generation of telemedicine tools features artificial intelligence (AI), better remote sensors and new diagnostic techniques that key into a patient’s unique symptoms and genetics — the very heart and soul of precision medicine.
- New sensor and analytic tech built into consumer electronics can alert doctors to a patient’s urgent medical needs.
- Genetic testing is driving new AI-telehealth platforms that allow patients to consult with specialists thousands of miles away for more personalized care, based on their DNA.
- Chatbots that help people who can’t, or won’t, see a therapist — keying into a patient’s unique symptoms and statements. One study found people who chatted with a bot called Wysa had a 45% reduction in depression and were 10 times more likely to take their medications.
Doctors are moving quickly to adopt this technology. More than half of all U.S. physicians are now using telehealth applications in their practices, and 69% expect to do so within a year.
A new report by Global Market Insights projects telemedicine will be a $130 billion industry by 2025, up from $38.3 billion in 2018.
- Personalized single-drug therapy: Perhaps the most striking example of the promise of precision medicine is the use of new single-drug therapies designed solely for one patient, based on their unique genetic and biological makeup.
In 2019, a Colorado 9-year-old named Mila Makovec became the very first person to benefit from a miracle drug designed for her — and only her — to treat Batten disease, a rare neurological condition, based on her gene profile.
Doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital designed her treatment using the new drug — aptly called milasen — while working closely with the medication’s manufacturer and the Food and Drug Administration.
The drug created for Mila contains little pieces of synthetic genetic material that don’t correct her defective DNA, but keep it from causing her neurological problems.
Taken together, these three factors allow us to gather, collect and share enormous amounts of information on our medical conditions. They’ll also provide a more precise diagnosis when something goes wrong in our bodies.
So, we can be prescribed a treatment that maximizes our benefits and minimizes our side effects based on our specific genetic code. That’s the promise of precision medicine.
What Are Some Examples of Precision Medicine?
Precision medicine has gone mainstream in several key areas, with genetics increasingly informing doctors’ decisions in oncology, cardiology, neurology and psychiatry.
It’s become common practice, for instance, for doctors to recommend cancer tests to patients with a family history of melanoma, breast or prostate cancer.
Psychiatrists will often recommend trying several antidepressants to people who suffer from depression before settling on one medication, recognizing not all drugs help all people.
The same is true for doctor prescription practices for cholesterol-lowering statins, diabetes medications and even Alzheimer’s treatments, among others.
But precision medicine is also breaking into less obvious health care sectors:
All of these health care innovations and advances — in wearables, telehealth and personalized single-drug care — are ushering in the new era of precision medicine.
Which Companies Are at the Center of Precision Medicine?
Hundreds of companies are nibbling at the edges of precision medicine, but the field includes a handful of innovators that are leading this mega medical trend:
- Illumina Inc.
- Foundation Medicine Inc.
- Cerner Corp.
- Epic Systems Corp.
- Ionis Pharmaceuticals Inc.
What Are Precision Medicine’s Global Market Projections?
According to a new analysis by BIS Research, the global precision medicine market is projected to grow to more than $216.75 billion by 2028 — up from $78.85 billion in 2018. That’s a growth rate of an astonishing 175%, at an annual rate of 10.64%.