Personalized medicine: EU renews support

Breakthroughs in technology, including genetic sequencing, presented significant medical opportunities
By Dillan Yogendra
08:36 AM

At a roundtable gathering in the European Parliament on 15 October, officials acknowledged that breakthroughs in technology, including genetic sequencing, presented significant medical opportunities.

The European Commission signaled that personalized medicine would soon shoot up the policy agenda. As spokesperson, Tapani Piha, who runs the Unit for eHealth and Heath Technology Assessment in the commission’s Directorate General for Heath and Consumers, said personalized medicine fits with the EU's approach. “We feel that empowering patients is essential. It is about making healthcare sustainable.”

He said clear dialogue with the business and research sectors was crucial to ensure the technology is successfully implemented. “It is important to speak the same language and break down the silos…We need the right tools. The knowledge needs to be translated into applications.” However Piha added that the EU could only set up broad policy priorities in research and health, and he appealed to researchers to propose specifics which could address them. “We are describing a challenge, and it is up to the research community to come up with an answer.”

Dr Guy Frija, president of the European Society of Radiology (ESR) and co-chair of the Brussels meeting, was pleased a first, crucial step had been taken in bringing the issues of personalized medicine and imaging onto the EU's radar. “It is important to convey this information to politicians, otherwise they will be advised only by people coming from other sectors, who are not always well informed on the issue,” he said. “We have huge difficulties in convincing our colleagues to integrate imaging with medicine, yet today we saw that the EU was convinced. My feeling is that the EU is open.”

Frija said personalized medicine is “a major challenge for our society and Europe,” adding that its arrival is “a consequence of the human genome program, and of affordability of DNA sequencing at low cost and high speed.” He compared personalized medicine to Google logarithms, reported to profile users on the basis of previous searches. “We need to do like Google does, but for personalized medicine,” he said.

Croatian MEP Biljana Borzan, host of the parliament event, said the development of new medicines went side by side with new challenges, “and this is often undervalued by policy makers.” She described the promise of personalized medicine and new imaging techniques as “fascinating technological wonders that offer immeasurable benefits for patients and society.” She was echoed by Maria Da Graça Carvalho, the Portuguese MEP who co-drafted the European Parliament report on the EU's forthcoming seven-year research program, Horizon 2020. A former Portuguese science minister, she inserted a specific amendment in the report calling for more research into personalized medicine in Horizon 2020. “We need to pay more attention to this area of research,” she said.

Of special note, Erik Briers, PhD, secretary of Europa Uomo, the European Prostate Cancer Coalition, also hailed personalized medicine, saying that one of the biggest problems for cancer patients is in fact over-treatment. “This over-treatment is because of a lack of information,” he said.

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