Nov 9, 2011 - Health + Traits

The Power of Predictive Care

You are unique, but sometimes when you see your doctor you don’t feel you’re being treated that way.

The promise of personalized medicine is that what makes you, you, can also be used to tailor the health care plan that is most effective for you.

This is already happening, in part, because of the work of people like Dr. Ralph Snyderman, chancellor emeritus at Duke University and  James B. Duke Professor of Medicine. Snyderman will be speaking early next year at the Personalized Medicine World Conference 2012 about bringing this approach into the clinic.

“As far as I’m concerned, the patient must be at the center of effective personalized medicine and prospective care,” he said.

The former Dean of Duke’s medical school and Chancellor for Health Affairs, Snyderman started talking about personalized and “prospective” health care more than a decade ago.   At the time, he predicted that medicine would move away from traditional reactive methods for treating disease. Instead doctors would start using personalized data and health care planning to provide a more preventive, targeted, and individualized approach to health care.

It’s taken some time, but Snyderman can point to several areas where this approach has taken root.

“A major basis of optimism in the war against cancer relates to the development of personalized approaches to each patient’s specific disease,” said Snyderman in a recent interview with The Blog.

In the case of breast cancer, for instance, genetic tests and other kinds of tests can help determine who will benefit from certain types of drugs and who might suffer serious side effects. Analysis of the cancer itself can also determine its molecular characteristics and what drugs should be used to attack it most effectively. Essentially this approach is about getting the right drug to the right patient.

“Companion diagnostics used to identify the appropriate patients for targeted treatments are already being practiced to great success,” Snyderman said.

Between 20-and-30 percent of breast cancers are more aggressive because they overexpress a protein called human Eepidermal growth factor receptor 2 or HER2/neu. Tumors with an overexpression of HER2 tend to reoccur more often and have much worse outcomes. But by using biomarkers, genetic and other tests to identify these patients, drugs like Herceptin ® or Tykerb ®   can suppress the expression of HER2 and improve outcomes.   (Dr. Snyderman previously worked for Genentech as a senior vice president for Medical Research and Development and helped put Herceptin ® into preclinical development.)


Mixing presentations on new technologies with insights from leading thinkers in the field the Personalized Medicine World Conference 2012 – January 23-24 at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View – offers another great opportunity to see now health care is changing now.

In the lead up to the conference, The Blog is running interviews with some of the featured speakers and advisers for the event. We recently ran an interview with Felix Frueh, of Medco, and hope to include an interview with Leroy Hood, president of the Institute for System Biology.

Following the success of last year’s conference, this one will again gather business leaders, researchers and clinicians together to offer real-world insights into how to successfully incorporate personalized approaches to the practice of medicine.

23andMe’s interest in PMWC has everything to do with our interests in empowering people in their own health care. Giving people access to their own genetic information, we believe, will have a role in personalizing medical care whether it’s used for prescribing medication or giving people a heads up for their genetic risks for certain conditions.

The organizers of the PMWC are also offering a discount to our readers. Register before December 1st here and get 20 percent off by using discount code: 23andMe2.

Snyderman points to other examples, including the targeted use of the drug Gleevec ®, a kinase inhibitor used to treat chronic myelogenous leukemia, a cancer in white blood cells. In certain acute cases, the mortality rate had been 80 percent, but with the targeted use of the drug treatment, as many as 90 percent of patients go into remission, Snyderman said.

Beyond these targeted drug therapies, there are now molecular diagnostics that can be used as predictive tools.

Allomap ®, which is based on gene expression testing, can help in predicting outcomes for heart transplants and avoid needless heart biopsies,” Snyderman said.

While these were just a few of the many good examples of what he sees as models for personalized medicine in practice now, Snyderman said there are still many obstacles to transforming the system. One is the culture of traditional medicine where care is disease-event driven.

Then there are the problems with how we pay for health care. The current fee-for-service model rewards expensive interventions instead of healthy outcomes.   Finally, patients not only need to be invited into the conversation, they also have to be willing to engage.

“The first thing we need is to have consumers involved and engaged in their own health,” Snyderman said.

In part that’s what he likes about 23andMe.

“Just the fact that consumers might approach some type of technology that gets them thinking about their health is a good thing.”

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