How Precision Medicine is Reshaping Healthcare in Europe

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Genomic medicine, also termed personalized medicine, precision medicine, and stratified medicine, was introduced into medical science with the success of the Human Genome Project about two decades ago. Since then, it has led to groundbreaking advances in diagnosis and treatment of disease.

Precision medicine employs an individual’s unique genetic profile and DNA sequences to determine their susceptibility to disease, the most suitable and individualized treatment for their disease and focused preventive strategies to adopt. This will, in no small way, reduce the number of unnecessary procedures and exposure to unnecessary and potentially toxic drugs administered to patients.

Genomics has led to the development of cutting-edge drug therapies that simplify the treatment of certain diseases. Genomic medicine is associated with high success rates and efficacy at reduced costs to the patients.

Europe is now taking the lead in pushing investments, innovation, and research in this novel field as genomics has advanced the treatment and diagnosis of a number of diseases in this region including cancer, diabetes, and rare metabolic diseases, as stated in a report in Future Medicine.

Precision medicine not only makes healthcare personalized for patients, it saves them a lot of money. It is fast becoming a booming market in the medical field. According to Markets and Markets, the global market for genomic medicine was worth $13.45 billion in 2016 and it is estimated to reach $23.88 billion in 2022.

While genetic testing and biogenetics have been well-established fields in the past in Europe, it has only recently been tapped into for its benefit in therapeutics and advanced diagnosis. For example, the prenatal diagnosis of certain pediatric conditions was developed by the pioneering Department of Pediatrics at the University of Athens in 1976.

The Department of Medical Genetics at the Choremon Research Laboratory of the University of Athens uses modern techniques in genomics for prenatal diagnosis of a number of genetic disorders including Wilson disease, muscular dystrophies, polycystic kidney disease, and rare disorders such as mitochondrial disorders.

Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow is taking steps to become a global leader in genomic medicine. Teaming up with Aridhia, a clinical genetic company in the city, it is developing therapies through genomics for the treatment of cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, COPD, and multiple sclerosis.

A number of breakthrough innovations and discoveries in clinical genetics have been made to provide and individualize healthcare in Europe. For example, Jason Chin and Oliver Rackham, finalists at the European Inventor Award 2012, created a method of producing custom-made proteins using DNA sequencing. These procedures have been successfully employed for development of therapies in insulin treatment and cancer treatment.

The European Union (EU) has begun developing policies that will see precision medicine advance healthcare in Europe. It has, since 2010, invested heavily in genomics with a total of €3.2 billion driven into research and innovation in precision medicine. About a third of this investment has been channeled through the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), the largest public-private partnership globally in the field of biological sciences.

The IMI was developed by concerted efforts of the EU and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations with the aim of promoting drug research and innovations.

The IMI precision medicine project has produced significant advances in medicine across Europe. In one instance, a project by IMI tagged NEWMEDS (Novel methods leading to new medications in depression and schizophrenia) has revealed the genetic variants in the development of schizophrenia and autism.

Another IMI project revealed, with the help of DNA sequencing, that there are three different subtypes, which previously was unclassified and treated as a single type, ensuring each asthma patient receives individualized treatment based on the asthma subtype they suffer from.

In a novel project, called The Glioma Actively Personalized Vaccine Consortium, researchers, and geneticists from a number of EU countries including Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, the UK, Switzerland, Spain, and Israel are developing a personalized immunotherapy for the treatment of Glioma.

Since 2010 some laws have been adopted by the EU to ensure precision medicine is developed and placed at the center of healthcare in Europe.

Some of these regulations include the Clinical Trail Regulation which promotes the conduct of clinical trials on genomics in the EU, the General Data Protection Regulation which ensures precision medicine and the techniques involved are protected under the law, and the In Vitro Diagnostics and Medical Device Legislation which aims to promote legislation in favor of technological and research advancement in precision medicine.

The European Commission launched an initiative “Personalized Medicine 2020 and beyond – Preparing Europe for leading the global way (PerMed)”. This initiative was birthed with strategies to develop awareness and empowerment among stakeholders, integrate information and ICT solutions, encourage clinical research, and shape healthcare around precision medicine.

This has led the Director General of Research and Innovation of the European Commission to begin discussions with researchers and policymakers from all around Europe. These discussions further led to the creation of an International Consortium for Personalized Medicine, or IC PerMed.

The IC PerMed has created plans and strategies to perform its key responsibilities which include;

  • Infuse precision medicine into basic healthcare
  • Provide evidence-based treatment options for citizens of the EU
  • Establish Europe is a major key player in precision medicine
  • Promote strong research in precision medicine.

According to a 2015 report by the European Alliance for Precision Medicine, more work still needs to be done in tapping from the well of resources that genomics has in store. The report noted that there is currently no screening guideline for Lung cancer, the continent’s number one cause of cancer deaths, further recommending the need for education of patients and wider screening programmes.

The era of precision medicine holds a lot of promise in paving the way for patients to receive effective care and eliminating unnecessary cost and drug adverse effects. However, there are a lot of challenges for this budding field in Europe.

One of such challenges is the management and control of the enormous amount of patient information genomic medicine would make available, a phenomenon termed as a “genomic tsunami” by the European Society of Human Genetics.

In a bid to properly manage the amount of patient data exposed to researchers, scientists, and doctors, the EU launched the IT Future of Medicine to ensure the privacy of patient’s health data and keep personalized medicine truly personal.

Learn more about precision medicine and the future of genomics here.