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3 Takeaways from the Precision Medicine Leaders Summit

Weren’t able to make it to the Precision Medicine Leaders Summit in August? Don’t worry, we’ve got the rundown for you here. And you’re in luck — we just received official word that the conference will return to San Diego next summer (Aug. 21-24, 2017, at Hilton San Diego Bayfront).

The first-annual Precision Medicine Leaders Summit, held Aug. 10-12, brought together pharma executives, insurers, doctors and scientists to talk about how we can advance personalized approaches to health care. We knew there would be a lot to talk about, and the speakers did not disappoint. Here are the top three takeaways.

  1. DNA testing is still not mainstream.

Precision medicine is facing implementation hurdles, especially on the payer side. We heard stories about a boy with a heartbreaking rare disease who was unable to obtain a genetic test that would clarify his treatment path, and about a mother whose insurance wouldn’t cover a test for the breast cancer mutation BRCA (so she tested her daughter instead). Part of the problem is demonstrating value: insurance companies said that if data is compelling, they will reimburse. But even then, another hurdle is physician education. Doctors are seeing 15-20 patients per day, and genomics is a rapidly evolving field. It can be hard to keep up.

  1. But the progress in personalized medicine is staggering.

For every story of heartbreak, there were incredible stories that demonstrated the power of precision medicine. Dr. Stephen Kingsmore, who will lead the new Rady Children’s Institute for Genomic Medicine in San Diego, shared the story of a newborn whose life was saved using rapid whole genome sequencing. It really doesn’t get better than saving babies’ lives.

We also learned about the emergence of pre-marital genetic testing in Saudi Arabia from Dr. Brian Meyer of King Faisal of the Specialist Hospital & Research Center. Social norms in Saudi Arabia have led to a very homogenous population, where the risk is high of marrying a relative. Before a couple decides to get married, they can be screened for common genetic disorders and decide to proceed or not with the marriage. A whopping 60 percent of couples who share mutations decide to call off the wedding. The homogeneous population has also uncovered genes linked to rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.

  1. Our knowledge base is growing fast. 

Dr. Allen Roses of Duke University reminded the audience that whole genome sequencing will become more powerful as the scientific community learns more about structural variants. This includes genetic rearrangements, such as missing or extra segments of DNA. Such data may shed light on Alzheimer’s and other diseases. The White House’s Precision Medicine Initiative just starting to enroll the 1 million volunteers they seek for their research program, where they will be able to learn more about our DNA. California also has its own initiative to advance precision medicine initiative. One thing is for sure: this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we know about our genome. We are counting down the days until next year’s conference.

For more takeaways from the Precision Medicine Leaders Summit, read coverage in the San Diego Union-Tribune.