Leroy Hood’s Personalized Medicine Vision Enters Proving Ground at Ohio State

5/18/10Follow @xconomy

Seven years after biotech pioneer Leroy Hood coined the term “P4 Medicine,” for a transformative new idea in healthcare, he has captured the first significant money and manpower from a major U.S. medical school to carry the idea forward.

Ohio State University, the nation’s second-largest university, said late Friday that its board has approved a partnership with Hood’s Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle. This is a two-year collaboration in which both organizations will put in $1 million each. Ohio State provides a group of 55,000 insured employees and family members who could enroll in clinical trials, plus a group of physicians motivated to be on the front line of personalized medicine. The Institute for Systems Biology will contribute cutting-edge analysis of genes and proteins from samples so the physicians can gather useful information to monitor patients and guide their wellness.

The deal means that Hood’s idea for P4 Medicine—shorthand for predictive, preventive, personalized and participatory medicine—is now officially up and running. The vision is that instead of waiting for clinical symptoms to appear, like a tumor spotted on an X-ray after it’s too late, physicians will eventually be able to see early warning signs of malignancies from a pinprick of blood analyzed by genomic instruments and software. If the genes and proteins are truly predictive, then doctors could take early action, or people could adjust their lifestyles accordingly to prevent disease. This vision could transform the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare industry, which currently pours most of its resources into reacting to chronic and preventable conditions, with little upfront investment in wellness.

“We’re near a tipping point, to use Gladwell’s term,” Hood says. “People realize things are changing, they need to change, and the old order isn’t going to solve the problems. A lot of people are willing to listen in ways they weren’t willing to listen before to new opportunities.”

Leroy Hood

Leroy Hood

Much of the heavy lifting for this vision is falling to Frederick Lee, whom Hood brought in almost a year ago as the founding executive director of a new nonprofit entity called the P4 Medicine Institute. Lee, 40, has the sort of unusual background that’s probably required for someone to carry out a task this big and broad. He studied molecular biology as an undergrad at MIT, and has a medical degree and completed surgical residency at Stony Brook University Medical School. Lee also has a master’s in public health from Columbia University, where he specialized in the study of preventive medicine, and has executive experience at health giants like GE Healthcare and McKesson, where he tried to implement his ideas.

Fred Lee

Fred Lee

So he’s young, ambitious, and as Hood says, “has a mutually congruent vision,” which is hard to find. Lee tried to implement some similar ideas back when in the corporate world, but he says “we spent a lot of time banging our heads against the wall.”

“We can perform 21st century medicine now, but we’re trying to do it with 19th century infrastructure,” Lee says. “It’s what the P4 Medicine Institute has been created to solve.”

This idea challenges so much conventional wisdom and institutional complacency that it has taken years for Hood to find the right partner. It requires multiple layers of an organization to fully buy into the vision—from CEO to physician to nurse. Then there are insurers. And there are privacy concerns whenever people start capturing huge amounts of genomic data on patients, which makes it hard to find people who will fully go along with the “participatory” element. Money to support the idea, of course, is always an issue.

Even some fundamental technical problems still need … Next Page »

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