Innovator Spotlight: …and what about personalized medicine?
Elena de Benavides, CEO of the International Institute of Phlebology S.L., is an economist by training and a specialist in Health Economics and Management of Healthcare Organizations. She is also one of the winners of Spain’s 2011TR35 competition, which is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s prize in recognition of top innovators under 35.
We worry every day about our health and everything related to it. To prove this point, we can see that over the last few years it’s been more and more common to find health related news in financial newspapers. An area previously once restricted to doctors now accommodates professionals from many different sectors. On top of that, the current economic situation helps conversations to arise concerning this sector. The need for cost containment and the different steps to do so are all things that must be considered.
Personalized medicine is certainly not immune to this wave of interest. The expectations are high, and no wonder: the benefits of all of us being able to use our DNA are endless, whether from the perspective of a treatment or the prevention of diseases. For many, these expectations are much higher than the rate at which the field is advancing. I sincerely believe that every great advance takes time, and while it is true that the defenders of personalized medicine have positioned it as the panacea for the future of the health sector, as of today, its applications are more limited than we all would like. The field of oncology is where progress is being made the most quickly in diagnostic tests, prevention and treatment. There are also applications currently available for autoimmune diseases or nervous system disorders and I think that is just the beginning.
It is true that personalized medicine is expensive, which is now one of its main drawbacks. However, these costs will gradually be reduced. Just a few years ago, to be able to know your genetic identity cost millions of dollars. Today this cost has dropped to $6,000. I do not think we will have to wait a long time for everyone to have their genes decoded and to benefit from a type of medical practice that will be able to address the most common treatments from another perspective.
However, and despite being an advocate of innovation on this line, I consider there to be a possible moral dilemma when I try to anticipate situations associated with the potential misuse of genetic information. Probably when the time comes, theses different situations will be addressed socially and legally, but nowadays there is a great vacuum when issues related to patient DNA that could lead to discrimination to purchase insurance, a life policy, or even a mortgage are considered.
I think now is the time to use vital information from the all scientific fields about the future prospects and developments with regards to personalized medicine and present it to society as a whole. We must begin to create a public opinion since it is a reality that is just around the corner. Creating social awareness is the first step to before legal and regulatory awareness. We still have time, but we must be careful, it’s closer than we think.