Lately, it seems like we read about new advances in precision medicine every day. Increasingly, physicians are able to adjust drug therapies and predict conditions like cancer and heart disease before they blossom, particularly in the case of some cancers. However, many health organizations are still focused on research rather than delivering genomic medicine results to consumers.
The process of basing medical decisions on genomic data has certainly begun, with a number of health systems jumping on board. For example, a few months ago Intermountain Healthcare begin the process of validating and launching several tests designed to identify hereditary genetic patterns that might lead to disease. Intermountain expects this work to be particularly fruitful for individuals with a family history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer. The test should identify both those previously diagnosed with cancer and healthy individuals with hereditary cancer gene mutations.
Now, at least one health system is taking things even further. Geisinger Health says it has announced that it plans to expand its genomics program beyond its research phase and into everyday care for all patients. The new program will not only target patients who have obvious symptoms, but instead, all patients Geisinger treats. The health systems clinical DNA sequencing efforts will begin with a 1000-patient pilot program taking place in mid-to-late 2018.
According to David Ledbetter, Ph.D., Geisinger executive vice president and chief scientific officer, the program will not only help current patients but also amass data that will help future patients. “As we sequence the exomes of our patients and learn even more about particular genome variants and their impact on different health conditions, we predict that as many as 10 to 15 percent of our patients will benefit,” he said.
The new strategy follows on the success of its MyCode Community Health Initiative, which it launched in 2014 in collaboration with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. Since then, Geisinger has been analyzing the DNA of patients participating in the program, which has attracted more than 190,000 patient sign-ups to date. To date, more than 500 MyCode participants have been notified that they have a genomic variant which increases the chance that they’ll develop cancer or heart disease.
Geisinger’s effort sounds exciting, there’s little doubt. However, programs like these face some obstacles which the health system wouldn’t call attention to a press release. For example, as my colleague John Lynn notes, integrating genomic data with other clinical information could be quite difficult, and sharing it even more so.
“Healthcare organizations have problems even sharing something as standard and simple as a PDF,” he wrote last year. “Once we have real genomic data and the markers behind them, EHRs won’t have any idea how to handle them. We’ll need a whole new model and approach or our current interoperability problems will look like child’s play.” Let’s hope the industry develops this new approach soon.