The term, ‘Precision Medicine’ has been thrown around in the health-tech space for quite some time now. However, the new hot topic remains clouded with uncertainty in regards to just how far away we are from a global precision medicine revolution. Some Australian experts are hopeful that as a world leader in medicine, Australia can take the lead in the precision medicine field. The question remains though; does Australia hold the medical prowess and passion to drive such an innovative movement?
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines precision medicine as "an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person”.
Source: A brief guide to genomics illustrated by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI)
As anyone in the medical field knows, genomics plays a pivotal first step in the development of precision based medicine. Not to be confused with genetics, genomics can be described as a field within genetics that applies recombinant DNA.
Genomics in Australia
In 2012, The University of New South Wales Garvan Institute opened the door for the advance use of genomic information in patient care, and subsequently has since then had new success in the field. A few years later in 2015 the world’s first centre specialising in precision medicine for infants and young children opened it's doors at Murdoch University in Perth. In 2016 genomics based research further expanded with Australian researchers using the methodology to explore the genetic composition of Aboriginal Australian's. Additionally throughout this time a few genomic start-ups have popped up in Australia such as; Genomics Hub, Genomic Diagnostics and Genome One. Not-for-profit organisations have also been established such as Biofoundry, Australia’s first open access molecular biology laboratory for the general public. Biofoundry frequnetly runs courses for enthusiasts and amateurs to house and facilitate realisation of proof-of-concept start-ups and allow for development of practical skills for undergraduate science students. However, comparatively on a global scale Australia has had a slow start in the precision medicine space.
The United States and Britain are excelling in precision medicine, with both countries leading the way with genomics agendas in both public and private sectors.
Former UK prime minister David Cameron broadcasted an ambitious plan programme of mapping 100,000 human genomes by 2017. If the program proceeds it would be conducted in a partnership between a government-owned organisation, Genomics England and US biotechnology firm Illumina.
In the U.S Barak Obama has allocated a $215 million investment into the Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI), a program that will build a national research cohort of one million or more U.S. participants.
Source: President Obama announced in his State of the Union Address on Jan. 20, 2015 that the White House, through the National Institutes of Health, would allocate a $215 million investment into a Precision Medicine Initiative.
How Can Australia Move Forward?
American researcher, Dr Isaac S. Kohane has spoken out on Australia’s lack of genomics engagement and says the country can do more to lead the way in Precision Medicine. Some of his actionable recommendations include:
- Creating a national educational program for clinicians that takes quantitative reasoning into ALL medical decision making.
- Create a genuine nation-wide health-monitoring network.
- Creating definitions of ‘diseasome’ trajectories.
- Banking samples for near-term cost-effective molecular & genomic characterization.
Other recommendations from researchers include extensive government funding to private genomic companies so as they stand a chance in competing with international privately owned companies. For example private companies 23andMe, Myriad or the carrier-screening company Counsyl are currently taking the international lead in precision medicine advancements.
Currently, a few American companies are sharing genomic data with other researchers, in a hope that patterns will be found. But these collaborations are far from providing open access data. Genetic data banks are a whole other story, which probably deserve a whole article devoted just to them (watch this space!).
The Future of Precision Medicine
Some researchers consider the popularization of precision medicine to be a tangible goal, however funders claim that it is integral that seeds be planted now in order to ensure a solid groundwork for the future. So therefore the case remains if (and most importantly when) the Australian government will develop a deep funding genomics scheme or program for precision medicine.
What do you think is the next step for Australia towards precision based medicine? Let us know in the comment section below.