With precision medicine, social determinants could be more insightful than genetics

In fact, researchers said genetic sequencing could become less relevant in the near future.
By Tom Sullivan
12:06 PM

India Barnard-Hook, director of strategy and associate director of precision medicine at University of California.

BOSTON -- While much of the excitement surrounding precision medicine focuses on using genomics to tailor personalized treatment plans, speakers at the Precision Medicine Summit said there’s more to it.

“We cannot achieve precision medicine without having everyone be a participant and benefit and understand,” said India Barnard-Hook, director of strategy and associate director of precision medicine at University of California, San Francisco. “Precision medicine is about much more than genomics.”

Social determinants of health, for instance, typically occur outside the healthcare system and have a significant impact on both health and individual outcomes.

“You have to know a lot more than the clinical phenotype,” said Linda Chin, chief innovation officer for health affairs at The University of Texas Health System.

[Also: Is precision medicine a matter of national security?]

“If you understand all the other factors that contribute to diseases, those can alter the course of the disease and ultimately prevent it.”

Vik Bakhru, COO of ConsejoSano, agreed that precision medicine is larger than the genetic component. “That’s where social determinants come in. It’s more than the genetic makeup of the patient, it’s about their life.”

Penn Medicine associate vice president of health technology and academic computing Brian Wells even made the bold prediction that genetic sequencing may become less relevant as cancer treatments become increasingly sophisticated.

“If we discover one immunotherapy that applies to all cancers, we really don’t need to sequence your genome anymore,” Wells said. “We’re at a tipping point and sequencing could become less important.”

In the meantime, Hook-Barnard said that healthcare providers need to transform their practices to put individuals in the center of their own care by enabling them to control their data and share it with researchers as they see fit.

“It’s not just it’s the right thing do,” Hook-Barnard said. “It’s good science.” 

Twitter: SullyHIT
Email the writer: tom.sullivan@himssmedia.com

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