Data Lakes Can Ensure That the Promise of Personalized Medicine is Here to Stay

March 3, 2016 John Poonnen

As early as 2007 the FDA approved evidence-based drug diagnostic combinations that could save the lives of AIDS patients running out of treatment options. This was indeed a harbinger of its future intent, and a hallmark validation of the promise of personalized medicine, enabling desperate patients and their doctors to navigate to the most effective treatment combinations quickly and without excessive trial and error.

Personalized medicine today is poised to leverage a long list of promising and miraculous treatment pathways that will make this a reality for all of us: 

  • Genetic variations inform the choice of the correct drug dosage required to control epileptic seizures.
  • Research has identified the gene variant that predicts type 2 diabetes.
  • The gene that elevates the risk of Alzheimer’s has been identified.
  • Routine newborn screenings that track the thousands of gene variants are used throughout the individual's life to manage their health care.
  • Blood and other samples collected during medical visits are routinely sent for comprehensive molecular screening for a large number of cardiovascular, neurological and other diseases that may develop in the future. 
  • Medical information on a smart card will soon contain our unique individual molecular profile.  Doctors will consult the profile before treatments or drugs are prescribed, thus avoiding costly mistakes that jeopardize patient safety.

You may wonder why such detailed scientific information is needed in the delivery of healthcare. It's because the effectiveness of drugs has consistently fallen short of their promise in many cases and has sometimes resulted in harm
to patients. This could happen either from delaying the right treatment for the particular condition or from triggering unintended adverse reactions. Close to 7% of patients annually in US hospitals have experienced serious drug reactions
to commonly prescribed drugs which trigger adverse reactions.

Research over the past few years has shown that:

  • ACE inhibitors: Hypertension drugs as prescribed today are effective only in 10-30% of the patient population 
  • Beta blockers, the popular heart failure treatment drug category is effective only in 15-45% of the patient population 
  • Antidepressants have been found to be effective only in 20-50% of the affected patient population 
  • Statins – The much-publicized wonder drugs for cholesterol management have been found to be effective only in 30-70% of patients. 
  • Beta 2 agonists, the common asthma medicine of choice is effective only in 40-70% of patients. 

The old paradigm of reactive medical care where a diagnosis is made, a drug is selected, and then the drug is switched multiple times until effective treatment is found is totally outdated. This practice must be replaced by efficient medical care where the genetic predisposition & clinical screening of the patient informs the doctor’s diagnosis and prognosis. The right drug is selected based on comparative effectiveness research and every patient is monitored on the journey to full health.  

The rigid dataset silos of yesteryear will give way to a new era of intense information collaboration that will accelerate the drug development cycle in progress worldwide and accelerate health improvements. This means that the healthcare ecosystem will have to work together to integrate all data in a consistent reliable and well-linked manner with robust linkages between pharmacy prescription fill, doctor visit, claims and laboratory data.

The promise of personalized medicine is here to stay, but the actions that the technical and clinical community must take are definitely onerous in the short run. The benefits of the new health enabled by advanced informatics leveraging the vast amounts of data and information from clinical, genomic and patient sentiment sources is unquestionable. 

To learn more about managed data lakes, foundational data management platforms for health and life sciences, watch our on demand webinar on Health Informatics and Managed Data Lakes:

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About the Author

John  Poonnen

Managing Principal, Nexor Technologies Inc.

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