Personalized medicine is about making the treatment as individualized as the disease. It involves identifying genetic, genomic, and clinical information that allows accurate predictions to be made about a person's susceptibility of developing disease, the course of disease, and its response to treatment.
In order for personalized medicine to be used effectively by healthcare providers and their patients, the findings must be translated into precise diagnostic tests and targeted therapies. This has begun to happen in certain areas.
The Spanish company Indra, for instance, is participating in research projects that examine how health records software could gather all relevant information, including the patient’s genetic profile, to tailor a particular diagnosis or treatment. The company has also initiated research into personalized medicine, beginning with an oncology project that analyzes samples and data from 1,000 patients suffering from two types of cancer.
Part of the hope for personalized medicine is to fulfil the promise of matching the correct treatment to every patient. Not every patient will respond to every option, so clinicians at times cycle through a number of potential medications, or combinations of medication, before hitting on one that works.
In response, Vivia Biotech has developed a technology that evaluates the most popular combinations of drugs to treat blood cancers (leukaemias, lymphomas, and myelomas). “In blood cancer[s], doctors always give a cocktail of drugs to treat a patient, but there’s nothing on the market to predict how the patients will respond to those four or five drugs,” says Juan Ballesteros, chief scientific officer. “We’re the first to do that.”
The company’s technology, called ExviTech, consists of a platform that can rapidly analyze thousands of biological samples (such as blood samples in combination with medications) in 48 hours. For blood cancers, Vivia Biotech has taken the 18 most popular drug protocols already in use. The patient’s blood is treated with each medication combination, which is then ranked by how many tumour cells that protocol kills. Says Ballesteros, “Our hope is not to cure the disease, but to reduce it to being chronic, by quickly finding the right drugs that kill the most tumour cells.”
The system is undergoing validation testing in Spain and the United Kingdom. The results are positive, according to Ballesteros—though yet unpublished—and as a result one regional health-care agency in Spain has agreed to initiate a pilot project for all diagnosed blood cancers. Though a test might cost $1,000, the savings it offers could leap to the tens of thousands by avoiding unnecessary and expensive drugs. Its cost-effectiveness will also be evaluated during the partnership with the health-care agency, and Vivia Biotech expects the tests to be on the market in 2012.
Barcelona-based AB-Biotics has also developed a technology to determine a given patient’s response to drugs, and has focused on those used most widely to treat psychiatric and neurological diseases.
A DNA chip called Neurofarmagen analyzes the patient’s saliva for genetic variations—published in the scientific literature or researched at the company’s laboratory—that indicate responses to different drugs. “Some of the variations have to do with the metabolism of the drug, or with the therapeutic target, or with the patient’s own biochemistry that could affect the intake and processing of that drug,” says CEO Miquel Angel Bonachera.
The company launched its first product, Neurofarmagen, in 2010; it is used for depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and epilepsy. Further products include Neurofarmagen Epilepsy and Neurofarmagen ADHD. Because of their success in Spain, AB-Biotics is preparing a plan to sell these products abroad, first targeting the U.S. market.