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What is precision medicine?

Precision medicine is an emerging approach for treating and preventing diseases. Previously, scientists adopted more of a ‘one size fits all’ approach for drug development, research and testing, with little specialisation. The difference with precision medicine is that it takes into account variability in, for example, genetics, environment, and lifestyle, which allows doctors and researchers to more accurately predict which treatment and prevention strategies for a particular disease will work in certain groups of people. It focuses on groups of people rather than the population as a whole by taking into account individual differentiating factors. 

What interests you about precision medicine?

I have a broad technical background with a PhD in Biochemistry and precision medicine was relatively unexplored until recent years. It is important to note that it is not necessarily an entirely new approach to medicine, rather new technology is enabling its development and increasing the speed with which change can occur. Precision medicine is appealing due to the breadth of its scope and the wide range of technologies which all play a key role in the sector’s development. From data collection, diagnostic and behavioural devices, wearables and sensors, researchers are able to collect vast amounts of information. Artificial intelligence, machine learning and analytic engines are then applied to the data, processing it and presenting opportunities for personalised solutions in drug discovery and therapies. It is a powerful tool in moving towards proactive rather than reactive healthcare.


The sector is interesting because it is so broad, from the raw data collection at one end through to a personalised solution at the other. We work with some really exciting companies at the cutting edge of medical research and at different stages in the journey. The development of wearables and tangibles within the health and wellbeing space has been significant. The application of artificial intelligence and machine learning to big data sets is driving drug discovery and the development of diagnostics at an unprecedented rate.

It is great to have such variety within the practice and the tangibility of a newly-discovered drug or treatment is very gratifying. 


What has changed in recent years? What is the most significant development?

The nature of the sector means that research and development are constant and continuous. There will always be a need to seek new therapies and mediation to combat disease. One of the main things we have seen change in recent years is the speed at which human genomes and DNA can be sequenced. Whereas in the past this would have taken huge amounts of time, new sequencing technologies have massively increased DNA sequencing rates, meaning the potential for faster drug discovery programmes is unlocked. The application of machine learning and AI has been particularly significant within genomic data. The combination of vast amounts of data being made readily available, plus the speed at which researchers are able to process it thanks to technical advances, means the sector is dynamic and exciting to work in. 


Why is IP so important to the field?

Precision medicine is a rapidly evolving field and a diverse and complex area of patent law. The patent eligibility of innovative therapies and diagnostics can vary between different countries. At Keltie, we understand the challenges in this field and can help clients from the very outset of their projects to ensure their interests are protected. 


Where do you see the future of precision medicine?

Whereas previously there has been a strong focus on genomics, researchers are now looking beyond genes at other factors to assess the true biological state of a person in order to understand the progression of diseases and develop new therapies. We are seeing significant developments in transcriptomics - that is studying RNA, as opposed to DNA - as well as proteomics and small molecule metabolomics. A more holistic view of an individual will be provided when looking at the combination of these areas and genomics. 


We also expect to see further developments in medical applications where patient-facing systems linked to a wearable device include software on your smartphone to monitor, measure and track a condition before taking the data and recommending a personalised care plan.


Another field we see developing much more in the near future is precision dosing. Currently a prescription might call for a drug to be taken four times per day across the whole patient base, but precision medicine seeks to tailor the dose of a drug to each particular patient in order to get the strongest response from them. This is something we expect to see much more of as highly personalised and potentially more accurate treatment plans are developed. 

Continue reading about 5 minutes with Laura Kehoe on precision medicine.
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