SAN JOSE, Calif. Experts working to enable a new era of personalized medicine based on genetics say they need much more computing umph and new specialized hardware to harness the molecular agents behind diseases. They envision a future in which consumers use a new class of personal devices to track their health by monitoring proteins in their blood.
Researchers have been working toward genetics-based medicine for a decade. The kinds of diagnostic tools and treatments they foresee are probably still a decade away, according to panelists at the BioMed Devices Forum here.
"It will probably take ten years before we look back and say we are there," said
Tom Quertermous, chief of research in cardiovascular medicine at Stanford University.
"There will be no big revolution, but it will be step-by-step progress as we push on all aspects of study design, look at data very critically and think about how to inform ourselves and our patients about how we are thinking about disease," said Quertermous who has founded three companies in genetics.
Cancer is one of the main targets for genetic researchers, although others are exploring diabetes, hypertension and other ailments that affect large groups. Genetics promises more effective therapies than today's trial-and error approaches with drugs that help some groups but don't effect or are even toxic for some small populations, said Robert Schueren, an executive with drug maker Genentech Inc. (South San Francisco).
Complexity is the biggest foe. Researchers are tracking hundreds of genes and hundreds of thousands of the proteins from which they are made to understand their role in creating and treating diseases.
For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved one therapy that uses 70 genes. "If you need 70 bio-markers you are in trouble," said Quertermous.
Tracking relationships becomes increasingly complex as researchers discover subtle sub-groups of diseases and new proteins. "If your business is built on diagnostics, it could take a very long time and not be attractive to investors," said Schueren.
To accelerate their efforts, researchers want to mine data from large genetic databases correlated to medical histories. However, only relatively small, often private databases exist today and the techniques for collecting and annotating genetic samples using digital technologies are still evolving.
"People have their own databanks, but they don't want to share them," said David Chernoff, chief medical officer at Crescendo Bioscience (South San Francisco), a molecular diagnostics startup. "Some countries such as Sweden and the Netherlands have good national health databases," he added.