It’s OK if you’ve never heard of Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) until now. It was less than one year ago when President Obama gave the National Institutes of Health (NIH) more than $200 million to accelerate PMI… and you may have missed it.
When the White House starts throwing money at something, it can help to pay attention. This time, it looks like 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was right on the money.
That’s because not one, but two big healthcare players just blew the lid off existing medical research. They did it by analyzing 450,000 human genomes and exposing a record number of our genes linked directly to depression.
Major depressive disorder (MDD) plagues over 350 million people worldwide with varying degrees of soul-crushing numbness and debilitating symptoms. Depression costs the U.S. about $1 billion a year in lost productivity, and that doesn’t include lowered work functioning, impaired productivity and decreased job retention.
Until now, the largest study conducted on MDD to uncover related human genes covered just 6,000 people.
Over 450,000 of those 1.2 million 23andMe clients had their genomes screened for outlier genes that may lead to MDD.
After some seriously major computer data crunching, the study found 15 human genome regions linked to serious depression. Because of smaller sample sizes, previous research was limited to finding just one to two genome regions.
Psychiatrist and gene researcher at Stanford University, Douglas Levinson, says: “The big story is that 23andMe got us over the inflection point for depression.”
Say “thank you” to those 1.2 million customers.
The Human Genome Project sequenced the first human genome in 2003 at a cost of $3 billion.
Now, 23andMe sells sequencing kits for $199.
We’ve come a long way, but we’re poised to leap forward even further in a short amount of time.
Most of the 1.2 million customers order their profile to discover their ethnic background and more than half allow their DNA for use in health research.
This is where the PMI comes into play. For 2016, the President earmarked $215 million to pioneer a new model of patient-powered research. The foundation for this will be massive data banks of DNA.
Volunteers will donate their DNA to large government and commercial industry databases. Alongside existing datasets from your medical record and lifestyle, this DNA test compares against key genes that cause you personal health issues and diseases.
As we discover additional genes, patients will receive custom medicine designed to block or destroy the effects of any harmful genetic cues in their genome.
Scientists have even developed technology that allows genes to be “edited” out of DNA completely. One of the frontrunners is a technique called CRISPR, leveraged by Editas Medicine (Nasdaq: EDIT), that recently went through an initial public offering in February.
Genome treatments are picking up major steam in the healthcare industry because they save costs. Hospital patients now receive a long list of “one-size-fits-all” tests for diagnosis of ailments and diseases. With precision genomic medicine, however, a patient’s genome would tell doctors where to target their treatment and eliminate wasted time, money and testing.
This cuts down on upfront diagnosis testing costs, and allows physicians to prescribe meds with greater accuracy.
Precision medicine is already disrupting the healthcare industry as we know it, and these latest technological insights could make for some interesting market plays down the line.
Now if only the military would adopt this technology so corpsman could stop prescribing two pills of 800mg Motrin for every single ailment at sick call!
Editor, BioTech Intel Trader