The Hopeful Future of Precision Medicine

Many of us have experienced the pitfalls of a “one-size-fits” all approach to medicine, where physicians prescribe treatment for the “average patient” instead of the one sitting in front of them. By not accounting for the variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle that are often so closely tied to health and illness, treatments end up falling short and sometimes do more harm than good. Fortunately, the “precision medicine” movement, which takes into account the patient’s unique characteristics when prescribing treatment and prevention strategies, has gained traction in recent years.

In 2015, President Obama funded the Precision Medicine Initiative to ensure that researchers could focus on creating efficient and effective ways to integrate more personalized treatment plans into the current healthcare and medical system. This year, we’re excited to have some of the front-runners in the precision medicine movement on the TEDMED stage!

Photo credit: Bryce Vickmark. Image provided by PanTher Therapeutics.

Photo credit: Bryce Vickmark. Image provided by PanTher Therapeutics.

An immediate goal of the Precision Medicine Initiative is to apply this approach to catalyze cancer research. While we have learned more about cancer prevention, detection, and treatment in the past 2 decades than we have learned in the previous centuries, we still haven’t found a treatment that doesn’t harm the patient in the process. The TEDMED 2016 Hive company PanTher Therapeutics is working to change this. As their CEO Laura Indolfi puts it, “it seems very counterintuitive to have a whole body treatment to target a specific organ.” The company is studying the precise delivery of existing, already proven chemotherapy agents directly onto the tumor using flexible plastic patches for consistent, slow release over time. PanTher is completing pre-clinical testing prior to initiating human trials for patients with pancreatic cancer, but hope to apply the same technique to treat other forms of cancer in the near future.

Another goal of the Precision Medicine Initiative is to harness the power of data to highlight trends about disease and health, in search of more effective treatments. This is precisely what Andrew A. Radin and his team at twoXAR are working on. The TEDMED Hive organization has produced efficacy signals in preclinical studies in multiple diseases. To date, twoXAR has completed over 75 disease prediction models and has 9 drug discovery collaborations, including both rare and common conditions.

Ultimately, the Precision Medicine Initiative aims to translate this method of prevention, treatment and care across all fields of health and healthcare. One area where precision medicine could have a measurable impact is in the study of neurodegenerative diseases, due to the relationship between genetics and neurodegenerative disease. The TEDMED 2016 Hive organization Denali Therapeutics is researching the genetic causes and biological processes underlying neurodegenerative disease and using this information to create targeted treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, ALS and other neurodegenerative diseases. Led by Chief Medical Officer, Carole Ho, Denali’s research team has identified multiple drug targets that could lead to breakthroughs in the treatment of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

TEDMED 2016 Hive organization Frequency Therapeutics is looking to uncover the body’s hidden biological potential to heal itself. Led by Co-Founder, President and CEO, David Lucchino, Frequency Therapeutics is developing small molecule drugs that activate progenitor cells within the body to restore healthy tissue in a precise and controlled way. With recent discoveries in stem and progenitor cell biology, Frequency Therapeutics is creating therapies that could reverse sensory hearing loss by targeting specific hair cells within the inner ear. Their approach is promising not just for the almost 1 billion people across the world who are affected by hearing loss, but for the potentially large impact on other diseases as well.

Image provided by Charles Chiu.

Image provided by Charles Chiu.

Using the precision medicine approach would also enable us to prevent the spread of disease much more efficiently. With the recent Ebola and Zika outbreaks, many are wondering how we can stop the spread of similar outbreaks in the future. Charles Chiu, an infectious disease physician and researcher, is pioneering the clinical implementation of a tiny next-generation sequencing device from Oxford Nanopore Technologies that could drastically change the way we respond to the next deadly bug. This device “can detect all pathogens – virus, bacteria, fungus, parasite known or unknown – in a single test,” says Chiu, and can do so in a matter of hours and in remote, low-resource settings. By using this device, we could decrease the time it takes to find diagnoses, which would help curb the spread of outbreaks and enable clinicians to provide timely and effective treatments for their patients.

Thanks to these extraordinary innovations, the future is looking brighter already. From preventing pandemics; to defeating neurodegenerative diseases; to curing and preventing hearing loss; to accelerating drug discovery; and creating a new therapy for cancer, each of these TEDMED Speakers and Hive innovators are working to ensure that the goals laid out in the Precision Medicine Initiative become a reality for generations to come.

With these exciting breakthroughs just around the corner, we are excited to hear more about these inspiring innovations as these Speakers and Hive entrepreneurs take the stage at TEDMED 2016. Register today to join us in Palm Springs, CA, this November 30 – December 2.