Google, Microsoft May Help Usher in Personalized Medicine Wave, Says George Church

5/12/09Follow @xconomy

The genomic era hasn’t yet produced a revolution in personalized medicine, but it’s coming, says Harvard University geneticist George Church. Major tech companies like Google and Microsoft are making it their business to help people keep track of their health data—side-by-side with their genome sequence data (if they’ve got it). The adoption of these technologies has been slow to date, but combined with a new policy push for electronic medical records in Washington D.C., it just might move medicine away from one-size-fits-all approach that’s been the standard for so long, Church says.

That was the most interesting idea I picked up from talking with Church after he spoke at the Xconomy Forum on biotech innovation that we held recently at Biogen Idec headquarters in Cambridge, MA. People perked up their ears when Church talked about genomics and personalized medicine, since he’s one of the world’s leading thinkers on those topics, and has also worked hard to apply his ideas at a number of emerging biotech companies. The list includes Cambridge, MA-based Knome, a provider of genomic interpretation services; South San Francisco-based LS9, a renewable fuel company; and Mountain View, CA-based Complete Genomics, a gene sequencing company that has brought down the price of a genome to $5,000.

Here’s an edited account of my conversation with Church after the forum:

Xconomy: You mentioned earlier that you think Google and Microsoft are doing interesting things in terms of fostering greater usage of genomic data. How is that?

George Church: It’s not really about genomics so much as it is about personally controlled health records.

X: Ok, so what kind of impact does this have on your work?

GC: To the extent that these things are a controlled vocabulary, that’s important. To the extent that it makes people feel like they own their medical records, they can then share them more easily than filling out a form or asking the physician to give them something, and then getting a bunch of photocopied sheets that need to be transcribed onto a computer. This makes it much easier for people to share it for research.

I would love to see a wave of enthusiasm where people say ‘I’m going to share my genome and my medical traits, so that we can all benefit.’ Because right now it’s largely uninterpretable. But if everybody shares, it becomes interpretable. It greatly changes the ability to do research if the genome and the traits are both in the hands of the individual, and it really costs them nothing to push a button. But they need to think very deeply … Next Page »

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