One universal and challenging reality of healthcare is that we all respond differently to different treatments. We’ve all had those frustrating moments when we learn that the medicine we recently tried that made no real improvement on our ailment somehow worked brilliantly for a friend or family member.

The reason for this variability stems from the fact that everyone has unique genetics, lifestyles, and living environments. Our genetic makeup, lifestyle choices, and the physical environment around us all impact how our bodies respond to sickness and medicine.

For instance, a small percentage of the population has an enzyme deficiency due to genetics. People with this deficiency are not able to process drugs called thiopurines, which are used to treat autoimmune disorders, certain types of cancer, and organ transplants.

The traditional approach to medicine involves doctors giving sick patients treatment that works well for most people, and adjusting course if the treatment does not work. This approach may work well enough when the illness is not serious, but it can be downright dangerous if the patient has an aggressive disease and there is not enough time for trial and error treatment.

In response to the limitations of traditional medicine, there is growing interest in a new approach called precision medicine. Unlike traditional medicine, precision medicine approaches treatment from the perspective that all patients are highly unique, and that in order to provide the most effective treatment, doctors need to understand exactly what makes a patient unique.

Precision medicine is a data-driven approach to healthcare, and recent advances in computer science and technology are harnessing data to drive innovation across the healthcare sector. There are significant challenges that need to be addressed before precision medicine can have a global, transformative impact, but leaders throughout healthcare and government are increasingly recognizing precision medicine’s enormous potential to deliver better care faster.

For those interested in the investment potential of this growing industry, there are a few important points to understand.

What Is Precision Medicine?

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), precision medicine is “an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person.”

The “precision” in precision medicine allows doctors and researchers to more accurately pinpoint which treatments will be most effective for certain people or groups of people.

Three fields that are rapidly driving innovation in precision medicine are genetic testing, pharmacogenomic testing, and medical imaging.

According to the NIH, genetic testing is “a type of medical test that identifies changes in chromosomes, genes, or proteins. The results of a genetic test can confirm or rule out a suspected genetic condition or help determine a person’s chance of developing or passing on a genetic disorder.” Genetic testing is currently used to identify people who are at particular risk for certain types of cancer (such as with the BRCA gene test for breast cancer), and the hope is that in the future, genetic testing will expand into the realm of primary care as a noninvasive screening test for preventive medicine.

Pharmacogenomic testing is a type of genetic test used to figure out how a patient will

respond to certain medications. Our genetic makeup contributes to how we respond to medicine, so pharmacogenomic tests look for clues in our genes to figure out which medications, or what doses of those medications, are likely to work best.

As mentioned earlier, some people have an enzyme deficiency that makes thiopurines ineffective. A pharmacogenomic test for this enzyme deficiency lets the doctor know whether thiopurines are a good course of treatment before treatment begins, rather than adjusting course after complications arise.

Last but not least, medical imaging encompasses the various technologies that allow us to view the human body in order to diagnose, monitor, or treat medical conditions (MRIs, CT scans, etc.). Innovative technological solutions are changing how images are gathered and interpreted.

By harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and deep learning, Intel recently developed technology that was able to identify thyroid nodules in patients with 10% higher accuracy than the radiologists. Innovations in genetic testing, pharmacogenomic testing, and medical imaging are accelerating the expansion of precision medicine in the healthcare ecosystem.

Why Invest in Precision Medicine?

The investment potential in the precision medicine industry is likely substantial, and there are several clear reasons for this.

First, leaders in government are beginning to recognize the enormous potential of precision medicine and are committing substantial resources to support innovation. For instance, President Obama launched the Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) in 2015 with $215 million in funding to drive research and expand precision medicine across the U.S. healthcare ecosystem. A cornerstone of the PMI is the groundbreaking All of Us Research Program, which plans to enroll and follow a diverse group of at least 1 million people in the U.S. in order to accelerate medical research and improve health.

Government funding aside, the proliferation of direct-to-consumer genetic testing is another driver of precision medicine’s long-term strength. Companies such as 23andMe and offer genetic testing that provides customers with genealogy and health insights.

Millions of people have taken these at-home genetic tests, and testing companies now sit on mountains of valuable data. That data, when properly (and legally) harnessed, is enormously valuable in developing new drugs.

While precision medicine is clearly going to continue changing the healthcare landscape in the coming years, there are a few challenges that need to be addressed before it becomes a game changer for everyone.

The first challenge is data. Health data is not like other data – it is subject to extensive and strict government regulations (HIPAA in the U.S., for instance). How will companies navigate these complicated data issues as they work to integrate precision medicine solutions?

The next challenge is access. If you are poor or uninsured, precision medicine, as it currently stands, is likely too expensive for you to use. Will prices come down as innovation accelerates, or will governments need to step in to improve access for everyone?

These are questions that thought leaders in healthcare, private industry, and government are thinking about, and they are worth considering if you are interested in investing in precision medicine.

How to Invest in Precision Medicine

Of course, investing in a field as new and innovative as precision medicine comes with its share of risk. As an emerging segment of healthcare, precision medicine is still growing and the companies in this sector are still working out where that can make the biggest impact. With this in mind, investing in precision medicine via an ETF or mutual fund is a good way to access this emerging field without taking on undue risk. A search on Magnifi suggests that there are a number of ways to do this.

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The information and data are as of the June 16, 2020 (publish date) unless otherwise noted and subject to change. This blog is sponsored by Magnifi.

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