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Genomics in Healthcare: A Game-Changer That’s Just Getting Started

By Motley Fool Staff - Mar 20, 2017 at 2:42PM

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Gene sequencing is cheaper and more prominent than ever before, but it’s still very early innings for this revolutionary technology.

Gene sequencing is playing a huge role in the push toward personalized medicine. The cost to sequence a genome is declining exponentially, and the amount of genomes that have been sequenced are rising in step. However, there are still plenty of hurdles to overcome.

In this clip from Industry Focus: Healthcare, the team discusses the role that genomics will play in healthcare and what risks remain.

A full transcript follows the video.

This podcast was recorded on March 15, 2017.

Kristine Harjes: What role do you think that genomics and this trend will play in healthcare more broadly?

Simon Erickson: Oh, yeah, that's right. The consumer test, the DNA test we were talking about before, are kind of limited in what the information they're giving you back is. If you want the whole enchilada, you need to look at the entire human genome. There's 18,000 unique human genes about in human beings. If you're looking at the entire picture, we're learning more about genes that we didn't know so much about before. That's really the driver for better drug development, for better treatment options. It's all in the information. That information is stored within the human genome. There's less than 2 million people that have had a full genome sequence done in the world today, which doesn't sound like a lot, Kristine, but when you consider that four years ago, that number was 40,000, we're seeing that exponential growth of how many of these are actually being done out there.

Harjes: Right. A huge thing that driving that is affordability.

Erickson: Absolutely. The Human Genome Project back in 1990 took about 13 years and $3 billion to sequence one person's genome. That fell, in 10 years, to about $100 million. Then, it was $30,000 a decade after that. Today, it's less than $1,000. As those costs come down, you're starting to see this pick up a lot more and more, and that's really unlocking the information.

Harjes: Right. On Sunday, former Vice President Joe Biden was giving a talk, and he was pretty much pleading with the tech crowd that was gathered there to hear him to fight for a cure for cancer. As a reminder, Biden's cancer moonshot initiative was designed to tackle cancer through personalized medicine, which is exactly what you're talking about. It uses information such as your genetic makeup to find treatments that are tailored to the individual. So, given that personalized medicine is becoming more and more commonplace, what are some of the hurdles and the risks associated with that approach?

Erickson: I think you have to say that privacy is probably the primary hurdle right now. Like we mentioned before, there's a lot of hesitation from a lot of individuals to provide very personal information, probably the most personal information you can provide is who you are as a person, your genome, or your healthcare data. I think there's still somewhere between hesitation and fear of having that out there. Who owns that data? How is that going to be used? There is a federal law called GINA that provides protection from that being used against you by employers or insurers. You can't profile people or discriminate against people based on their genome. But, this is still a very early industry. Personalized medicine is still in the first innings. Electronic health records is still very early on. They've been around for years, but as far as the adoption, it's still very early. So, I think we still haven't fully defined a lot of those protections, and how they'll be used by various interested parties.

Harjes: Yeah, there are definitely a lot of legal issues that are still left to be shaken out. The tech world moves so quickly, but you also have, on the other hand, the law, which is slower to move, for sure, and you also have established practices from medical care providers who are maybe a little bit hesitant to move as quickly as the technology is moving.

Erickson: Yeah, that's absolutely right. A lot of practices out there like the way that they've been doing things. They've gotten used to it, they've got a system, they've got a workflow, the personnel is already trained on the way that they're doing it. So, a lot of people have a mentality of, "This is what I'm doing right now, and this is working fine for me. I don't really want to introduce a lot of technology into my practice." I think that's another hurdle we should probably discuss. You have the opportunity to see a lot more things, and develop a lot more useful information with technology, but it's also going to be a bit of a learning curve, especially up front, to get everybody else trained on using those.

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