Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, famously noted "it is far more important to know what person the disease has than what disease the person has". He was right. Any doctor will tell you that patients suffering from what seems to be the same disease will react very differently to the same treatment. Looking only at the disease, and not at the person, is bound to lead a physician astray.
Our healthcare systems, however, are still mostly geared towards one-size-fits-all approaches. They treat the disease or symptoms instead of the person. They try, and often fail, so they have to try again. For this reason, several common medicines do not work in many of the patients that they are supposed to treat, leading to poor results, unnecessary suffering and high costs. With an ageing population and a growing number of chronic diseases, Europe needs to change its healthcare paradigm.
Personalised medicine places the patient front and centre. It looks at the patient's molecular profile, environment and lifestyle to decide what treatment strategy will work best. This approach, which integrates information from multiple sources, can make healthcare smarter, better and more cost-efficient. The vision driving this development is that healthcare should become proactive instead of reactive. With better knowledge of the mechanisms governing health and disease, predicting and preventing ailments will become even more important elements of the healthcare equation, helping to reduce healthcare costs and allow people to live healthier and more productive lives.
Research and innovation is driving progress in this area and, thanks to a number of factors, Europe is at the forefront. Personalised medicine is a vanguard area of healthcare and health research. It uses many new technologies and innovations that can create jobs and growth in the life sciences sectors.
The market opportunities in the area go beyond medicines and diagnostic devices. They include demand for products such as high-tech storage and data-sharing, as well as low-tech devices and services aimed at heightening awareness of personal health risks.
Personalised medicine is one of the main health research priorities of Horizon 2020, the EU's funding programme for research and innovation. A large part of the budget of over €2 billion, for the first years of the Health, Demographic Change and Wellbeing challenge, has been dedicated to research aiming to personalise health and care. For example, two pilot projects with a combined budget of around €30 million aim to trial personalised medicine approaches in existing healthcare settings. The projects will also evaluate how these new approaches bring value to healthcare systems and patients.
The Luxembourg EU Presidency made personalised medicine a priority area. The Council conclusions on " personalised medicine for patients", published in December 2015, is a welcome development. Beyond Europe, both China and the USA are launching ambitious programmes.
The research agenda of the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), the world's largest public-private partnership in life sciences, rests on the fundamentals of personalised treatments. One example is EU AIMS, a €37 million project aiming to explore the biological causes of autism, with a view to developing personalised treatments.
Prioritising a cutting-edge field like personalised medicine can help policy makers to design the right framework conditions for innovation - our continued work on better regulation can be informed by the advances in this area. We need to make sure that there are no unnecessary barriers blocking the development of innovative personalised medicine treatments and approaches.
OPEN TO THE WORLD
Despite our efforts and promising developments in some areas of personalised medicine, we need to do more.
That is why the Commission, together with European research funding agencies and policy makers, are working to set up a collaboration that will be called the International Consortium for Personalised Medicine (IC PerMed).
IC PerMed's aim will be to establish Europe as a global leader in personalised medicine research and to further develop the science base needed to bring about change. It will take a holistic approach to this field, and will develop a roadmap to tackle research challenges from the scientist's bench to the patient's bedside. After an initial phase focusing on Europe, the initiative will be ready to engage with other organisations across the globe.
This new initiative will be officially launched at the Personalised Medicine Conference 2016 here in Brussels on 1-2 June. I look forward to welcoming you to this conference, where the IC PerMed roadmap will be presented through engaging sessions and discussions.
Better health for all is more than a catchphrase. It is the vision that guides the Commission's health research funding and policy work. Let's always remember that better health for all means better health, one person at a time.
Read more about the Personalised Medicine Conference 2016 on http://ec.europa.eu/permed2016
This article was written for, and first appeared in, the European Files http://europeanfiles.eu/wp-content/uploads/issues/2016march.pdf