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Innovation in Oncology 2019

Personalised medicine is now a reality

iStock / Getty Images Plus / KatarzynaBialasiewicz

Mary Maguire

Group Medical Manager, Roche

An explosion of technological advances and data gathering is taking personalised medicine to the next level.

When it comes to treating patients, there’s a general consensus that holistic care, where a patient’s complete needs are taken into consideration, is preferable. Until recently, this has been little more than wishful thinking.

Technology opening up potential

Technology is opening up the potential to completely rethink patient care. The catalyst driving this major shift is ‘big data’ or, as Mary Maguire from Roche – a pharmaceutical company innovating in the field of personalised medicine – more accurately calls it,  meaningful data.

There is a growing number of electronic medical records and patient repositories, so we have more information than ever before at our fingertips. But information in isolation is meaningless.

Intelligent analytics

Furthermore it’s the advent of machine learning and artificial intelligence that has opened up the opportunity for digital pathology and advanced analytics to better understand the links between genetic mutations, disease and the relevant treatments.

“It’s all about asking the right questions and then linking these mass repositories so, when we look at these data sets, the insights we’re getting can be applicable to a lot of patients,” says Maguire.

Cancers underlying genetic signature

Such information has already led to a shift in the way disease is categorised. In terms of cancer, we generally think about its location in the body – bowel, skin and breast, for example. However, with greater insights, physicians are now looking at the underlying genetic signature of the cancer and how that can be treated. This, in turn, is opening up new treatment possibilities.

Wearable tech and apps to support patients’ treatment plans

The personalisation of medicine has the potential to go even further than assisting diagnositics and treatment planning. There is now a plethora of wearable technologies and medical apps that have in fact made it much easier to track a patient’s ongoing health and response to medication

A physician may only see a patient every month, and yet, with wearable technology, they can track fluctuations in their health continuously. Such information can then be used to make appropriate adjustments to a patient’s treatment plan.

“We’re trying to leverage different sources of information that are available, so care is optimised at every stage for the patients,” confirms Maguire.

Sharing information across the health care sector is vital

Many healthcare teams are already taking a more personalised approach to care, but Maguire is under no illusion that industry-wide adoption will be easy.

The technology is indeed available, and much has already been deployed, but until there is connectivity – across hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, research institutes and beyond – its potential won’t be optimised.

“It can be overwhelming,” acknowledges Maguire. “But fundamentally we’re trying to make the patient journey and the physician’s journey with the patient as easy as possible.”

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