Four Themes to Watch in Personalized Medicine

1/30/12Follow @sheffi

Good morning from Mountain View, CA, and from the close of the 2012 Personalized Medicine World Conference, which brought together thought leaders of business, government, healthcare-delivery, research and technology. Four themes that emerged from this year’s program:

• Greater optimism, triggered by the 2011 approvals of two major oncologic agents paired with companion diagnostics: vemurafenib (Daiichi Sankyo and Roche / Genentech) for patients with metastatic melanoma with a mutant biological pathway known as BRAF V600E and crizotinib (Pfizer) for patients with non-small-cell lung cancer that overexpresses a protein called ALK. Walter Koch from Roche and Hakan Sakul from Pfizer proudly discussed their development processes and speedy approval timelines. Those approvals were also cited by several other talks as examples of major progress made in the quest to deliver the right drug to the right patient.

• Greater clarity from the FDA. Although the FDA was not able to meet its self-imposed deadline of year-end 2011 to finalize guidance to industry on the best practices for developing companion diagnostics, Elizabeth Mansfield reiterated Commissioner Hamburg’s commitment to personalized medicine and told the audience to expect final guidance before the end of June. Mansfield also said that the FDA would provide guidance on how to co-develop a drug & test in parallel, as well as how to “enrich” clinical trials through careful selection of patients, based on their genetics. Both of these important regulatory steps could happen in 2012. The most surprising revelation, though, was Mansfield’s staffing: her group has just four people to evaluate all personalized-medicine-related medical devices.

• More sequencing. Just a few weeks ago at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, 800-lb sequencing gorillas Illumina and Life Technologies / Ion Torrent announced that scientists can expect the $1,000 genome by the end of 2012. Piggybacking on that announcement, Mostafa Ronaghi, chief technology officer of Illumina, presented a thorough overview of his company’s progress to date, bragging that 90 percent of all sequences produced worldwide had been produced on an Illumina instrument. Among other projects, Ronaghi’s team is working on techniques to accurately cover the 8 percent of the genome that cannot be sequenced because of repetitive regions. (Ronaghi made his presentation just hours before news broke of Roche’s unsolicited $5.7 billion takeover bid for Illumina.)

• More translational bioinformatics. Given the implied data glut that whole genome sequencing will produce, last week’s conference revealed more accomplishments in the application of bioinformatics to the remedy of disease. One of the unsung heroes of this year’s conference was Elizabeth Worthey from the Medical College of Wisconsin, who walked the audience through a case study of a pediatric patient presenting with undefined inflammatory bowel disorder. Worthey’s whole exome sequencing and variant analysis of the patient revealed a key mutation in the XIAP gene. A cord blood transplant ultimately cured the child, who was eating, drinking and playing again within four months.

Jonathan Sheffi is co-founder and Product Marketing Director of Clinical Future. Follow @sheffi

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