The Real-Time Evolution of PM’s Promise and Challenge


Personalized Medicine Watch

By John Russell

Sept. 30, 2008 | Even as grand visions emerge of what personalized medicine may do to transform healthcare, so too are its thorny challenges emerging. Two recent events illustrate this quite well. Long-time biopharma watcher G. Steven Burrill painted a bullish picture of PM’s promise, while Google founder Sergey Brin blogged about his personal challenge as revealed by genetic testing provided by 23and Me, the company co-founded by his wife Anne Wojcicki.

Consider first this excerpt from a Washington Post article describing Burrill’s presentation:

“Perhaps it was the purple starry night backdrop or the strange silver poles lined up on stage, but G. Steven Burrill seemed to have arrived from the future. Addressing AdvaMed 2008, a medical technology industry conference in Washington last week, he spoke about the upcoming era of personalized medicine. Soon all health care will be Wal-Mart-ized, said Burrill, chief executive of Burrill & Co., a San Francisco life sciences merchant bank. When you walk into a superstore, you would drop a sample of blood or saliva on a BlackBerry-type device. When you're done shopping for groceries, the store would present you with a printout of your ailments and a bag of personalized medication. That medication would also contain digestible computer chips, which would relay real-time reports on your body's fluctuations.”

Burrill has always dealt in big ideas, and has often been proven right.

Now consider another aspect of PM. What should you do when you learn you have a high risk for a dread disease, as Brin did, when his genetic profile revealed a mutation at gene LRRK2 associated with a high likely hood of developing Parkinson’s Disease. Brin tackled this issue in a recent blog post that is well worth a read. Here’s an excerpt:

 “…I learned something very important to me—I carry the G2019S mutation and when my mother checked her account, she saw she carries it too. The exact implications of this are not entirely clear. Early studies tend to have small samples with various selection biases. Nonetheless it is clear that I have a markedly higher chance of developing Parkinson's in my lifetime than the average person. In fact, it is somewhere between 20% to 80% depending on the study and how you measure. At the same time, research into LRRK2 looks intriguing (both for LRRK2 carriers and potentially for others). This leaves me in a rather unique position. I know early in my life something I am substantially predisposed to. I now have the opportunity to adjust my life to reduce those odds (e.g. there is evidence that exercise may be protective against Parkinson's). I also have the opportunity to perform and support research into this disease long before it may affect me. And, regardless of my own health it can help my family members as well as others.”

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