August 2014, Vol 3, No 5

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The Case for Personalized Medicine: Defining the Field and Envisioning the Future of Healthcare

Edward Abrahams, PhD

The Last Word

“In a time of unprecedented scientific breakthroughs and technological advancements, personalized health care has the capacity to detect the onset of disease at its earliest stages, pre-empt the progression of disease, and, at the same time, increase the efficiency of the health care system by improving quality, accessibility, and affordability.” – The Case for Personalized Medicine, 4th ed.

This is the mantra of the Personalized Medicine Coalition (PMC). By understanding individual variation at the molecular level, we can improve patient outcomes while also increasing the efficiency of the healthcare system. Targeting the right therapies to the right patients at the right time, personalized medicine presents the opportunity to treat patients before they get sick, avoid side effects and adverse events, and eliminate unnecessary interventions, including costly hospitalizations, thereby both saving the healthcare systems that incorporate personalized medicine money but also improving their care of individual patients.

In order to realize these opportunities, however, it is imperative that we encourage investment in developing the targeted drugs and sophisticated diagnostics that will allow healthcare providers to personalize treatment and that we also align our public policies to support, rather than hamper, the development of the field. Taking these steps will allow us to both preserve innovation and address the burgeoning costs that beset healthcare budgets around the world.

Indeed, this is already happening. Whereas in 2006, there were 13 prominent examples of personalized medicine drugs, treatments, and diagnostic products on the market, today there are 113, illustrating the steady progress of the field and its ability to improve the health of patients who benefit from them.

PMC contends that personalized medicine is an evolving and integrated system in which physicians use molecular diagnostic tests to determine which medical treatments work best for individual patients. By combining the data from those tests with an individual’s medical history and circumstances, healthcare providers, with input from their patients, can develop targeted treatment and prevention plans.

The Case for Personalized Medicine, PMC’s signature document that defines the field and outlines how we envision the future, explains how personalized medicine can:

  • Shift the emphasis in medicine from reaction to prevention
  • Direct the selection of optimal therapy and reduce trial-and-error prescribing
  • Help avoid adverse drug reactions
  • Increase patient adherence to treatment
  • Improve quality of life
  • Reveal additional or alternative uses for medicines and drug candidates
  • Help control the overall cost of healthcare

Some have suggested that the case for personalized medicine is obvious and does not need a brief that describes its benefits and points out the obstacles impeding its development and delivery. We disagree. We have written The Case for Personalized Medicine to encourage continued investment in personalized medicine, believing that it holds the key to better healthcare and a more efficient, less costly health system.

The challenge for our time – and it is one that I am pleased to note that the National Institutes of Health, FDA, and the pharmaceutical and diagnostic industries have all embraced – is to figure out how to translate the emerging science and technology into practice faster so that patients and the public benefit sooner than later.

We are on the precipice of a new era in medicine, one that is based on a richer appreciation of individual variation and the development of new tools to decipher them. We need to do everything within our power to help advance the promise that patients are looking for and the healthcare system requires.

To view The Case for Personalized Medicine in its entirety, please visit

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