By Bob Evans, Senior Vice President, Oracle
Sometime in the next few years, for US$1,000 or less, you'll be able to have your entire personal genome sequenced, and the relevant genomic and medical data will fit on a thumb drive.
That will represent a remarkable advance in the march toward truly personalized medicine—but it's also just the beginning of an even larger story.
A series of breakthroughs in medical science and information technology are triggering a convergence between the healthcare industry and the life sciences industry, a convergence that will quickly lead to more intimate—and interactive—relationships among people, their doctors, and biopharmaceutical companies.
Big data and analytics are playing indispensable roles in fostering those enhanced relationships as they vastly enrich the remarkable but isolated wonder of genome-on-a-thumb-drive by giving healthcare providers and drug makers the ability to explore and analyze genomic and proteomic data not just for an individual but in aggregate for millions of people.
In a panel discussion last week in New York City at the Galien Forum 2012, moderator Kris Joshi, PhD, reminded the audience that for these advances to reach their full potential and have the greatest impact on the largest number of people around the globe, it's essential to bear in mind that "Genomics is a team sport."
And just as in sports, deeply collaborative teams can accomplish more than individuals can, Joshi said. "There are multiple kinds of 'omics' data being explored—genomic, proteomic, metabolomic, and more," he said, and to achieve the best outcomes, "we can't leave anything to the imagination."
On top of that, huge volumes of public-domain reference data take on new meaning as they are used alongside individual patient data to offer greater context, depth, and insight, said Joshi, who is global vice president for Healthcare within Oracle's Health Sciences unit.
"So, you can't just provide care for a patient in isolation anymore—you have to look at data beyond your walls—but the reality is that most health systems are simply not set up to do that today," said Joshi.
The big stumbling block for many health systems is their inability to properly analyze the vast stores of data they have, either because the data is isolated in disparate and incompatible systems around the organization, or because the analytical tools at hand are simply not powerful enough and sophisticated enough to handle these complex data challenges. (To see how US$10 billion global healthcare enterprise UPMC is overcoming that healthcare-analytics challenge, please check out our recent column called "UPMC Picks Oracle to 'Unlock Secrets of Human Health.' ")
"Health systems will have to go rapidly from a one-size-fits-all model of treatment to a more customized model, which still uses mass-manufactured but where treatments are selected for patients based on specific biomarkers," Joshi said. "But we can now see the next advance in personalized medicine potentially going even further, something much more personalized, like a tailor-made suit. At first, like a tailor-made suit, it is likely to be expensive and exclusive, but over time it will become a commodity that people come to expect."
And because of the recent advances in big data solutions and advanced analytics, Joshi said, "Personalized medicine on a broad scale can now be contemplated: We see it in action today in oncology with very specific, targeted treatments that are saving lives, even though from a broader perspective it might seem a bit distant."
From the biopharma sector, Pfizer's Nadeem Sarwar, senior director and head of population research and of cardiovascular genetics, said the industry is "at the cusp of a golden era, in which we're seeing a paradigm shift from developing and testing new treatments in mice that we hope will translate to humans, to a point where we now have the ability to directly study humans and thereby match the therapies to humans."
This breakthrough, said Sarwar, will require the "true integration of data from many sources"—cell biology, pharmacology, clinical studies, and more—as well as unprecedented levels of collaboration across biopharma and healthcare and, ultimately, individual patients.
"Big data and advances in our understanding of genomics are providing us with the footholds into establishing and understanding, for the first time ever, the causal genetic factors that help us manage that golden triangle of treatment: the right target, the right chemistry, and the right patient."
(This article was originally posted in the Forbes.com OracleVoice blog on October 22, 2012. Oracle was a platinum sponsor for the Galien Forum 2012. Learn more about Oracle Health Sciences.)