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New Developments In Personalized Medicine Could Save Billions, Researchers Say

Genetics for medicine

Personalized medical interventions to prevent heart disease could generate $114 billion worth of heath gains in United States, researchers say.

Writing in an article published in The Lancet, Dr. Victor Dzau, President of the U.S. Institute of Medicine, and colleagues say new developments in personalized and precision medicine (PPM) could offer enormous gains in healthy life expectancy for Americans, but the incentives to develop them are weak.

PPM tailors medical treatment to the individual characteristics of each patient, according to their susceptibility to a particular illness. But PPM goes beyond just targeting therapies at individuals who are ill; it includes the ability to identify those at highest risk of developing a disease, and who would benefit most from prevention measures.

Many of the first breakthroughs in PPM have occurred in breast cancer research. The identification of genes linked to breast cancer (BRCA1, BRCA2, CDH1, CHEK2, PTEN, p53, ATM) has allowed doctors to warn women and men at increased risk for cancer decades before it might develop, giving them time to make decisions to help prevent or detect cancer early. For women diagnosed with breast cancer, genetic testing on the cancer itself can help determine the need for chemotherapy and whether it will work. Additionally, doctors are now using drugs that directly attack targets in breast cancer cells detected by genetic testing, such as HER2.

For this latest study, Dr. Dzau’s team used a health simulation model to project the future impact of PPM interventions that improve screening and risk prediction technologies to identify individuals at highest risk of developing specific diseases. The model predicts the monetary value of health (years of healthy life) generated by PPM interventions in reducing the incidence of six diseases (cancer, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, lung disease, and stroke) in the US population by 10% and 50% between 2012 and 2060.

The results show that a PPM intervention that reduces the incidence of these six diseases by 10% would generate $96 billion from diabetes and $70 billion from cancer in the form of longer, healthier lives over 50 years. A PPM innovation that reduces heart disease incidence by 50% would generate a staggering $607 billion in improved health over 50 years, the researchers found.

“Preventive, personalized, and precision medicine interventions targeted at reducing heart disease would have the greatest societal benefit, because heart disease is very common and has a relatively large effect on life expectancy,” explains Dr. Dzau. “Other diseases such as stroke or lung disease are much less prevalent and offer smaller opportunities for creating additional years of healthy life from incidence reduction.”

However, while preventive PPM innovations hold huge promise, there are few incentives to develop them. “The current reimbursement environment in the US health care system is characterized by near-term budget pressures, and discourages the development of preventive, personalized, and precision medical interventions in favor of treatments that generate less value overall, but provide greater returns in the short term,” adds Dr. Dzau.

According to the authors, reimbursement based on a test’s value, rather than cost, could strengthen manufacturers’ incentives to bring preventive PPM diagnostic tests to market more quickly: “In the USA, private insurers’ incentives favor interventions with immediate benefits and short payback periods. But the real benefits of PPM innovations accumulate over a much longer time, as individuals enjoy living longer in good health. Our predictions show that developing a model that generates positive returns for private payers could benefit everyone.”


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