A sea change in medical innovation is disrupting traditional approaches to health policy. Thanks to genomics, diagnoses are much more precise and medicines are targeted and personalized to address specific individual biomarkers. We have entered an era where healthcare can be truly patient-centric.

Patients and their advocates are acutely aware of this change and very vocal about the need for our health care system to adapt. But in this rapidly changing environment, policy-makers struggle to deal with the new realities of personalized medicines for cancers, rare diseases, hepatitis and a growing array of other life-threatening or debilitating diseases and conditions.

We urgently need to change our thinking and our approach to health policies in order to realize the full potential of life-saving medicines.  Most of all, we need to let go of our past understanding of medicines and their value to our health.

Nowhere is this more important than in the determination of access to and reimbursement of personalized medicines. Current approaches to comparative effectiveness research and analysis rely on broad population averages that obscure patient differences and do not properly account for the role of genetics and other factors in an individuals’ response to medication.

Personalized Medicine

Source: http://www.research.bayer.com/en/23-personalized-medicine.pdfx accessed Feb 18, 2016

Two elements determine the effectiveness of a drug: the chemistry of the drug and the chemistry of the patient. Any given prescription drug is effective for only about 50 percent of patients. Thus for common conditions there are a variety of different medicines that can be prescribed. Through trial and error, physicians and their patients determine which medicine is effective.

Today’s medicines are targeted to specific biomarkers ensuring far greater effectiveness, making it possible to achieve cure rates of 90 percent or better. This reduces waste and makes health care delivery more efficient and cost-effective. Targeted medicines for hepatitis C will dramatically reduce the incidence of liver cancer and reduce the number of liver transplants.  New immunotherapies such as those that eliminated Jimmy Carter’s brain tumors are enabling people to live longer disability-free lives.  Another immunotherapy that was initially approved for melanoma is now also approved for kidney cancer and lung cancer demonstrating that these ground breaking targeted cancer treatments may benefit patients across a wide range of tumors.

This new science and technology is disruptive and developing policies and funding mechanisms to enable its uptake will be challenging. But the benefits of destroying the scourge of cancers, hepatitis, and rare genetic disorders are more than worth the effort.