The mapping of the human genome was a major milestone in medicine, but for average consumers, the benefits of this breakthrough were way out of their financial reach. But that might change over the next decade: Experts except the price to map a person’s genome to drop dramatically, enabling doctors to identify possible health hazards long before they develop into chronic, expensive problems.
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“In the next 10 years the costs will come down below $1,000 per genome from $10,000 to $20,000 today,” says Kevin Hrusovsky, chief executive of Caliper Life Sciences.
Genome mapping, along with imaging and diagnostic testing, could change the way medicine is practiced, according to Hrusovsky. “Medicine will become predictive health care as opposed to sick care,” he says, noting that knowing if a person is predisposed to a disease will not only prolong life, but save the overall health-care system a significant amount of money.
Genome sequencing allows scientists to isolate the DNA of an individual person and identify different codes. Then, based on scientific studies of patients with diseases like cancer or heart disease, scientists can pinpoint the common DNA letter codes--acting as a predictor.
“The idea is finding out what letter might represent the on start of disease,” says Hrusovsky.
For example, if a patient shares the same letter code as a person with breast cancer, it could suggest a high probability he or she will develop breast cancer in the next 15 or 20 years. This could allow patients to get appropriate screenings, testing and treatment if needed, long before the tumor becomes an issue.
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Experts also say sequencing each person’s genome would be beneficial to prevent a variety of heart ailments and even obesity. Mounting evidence shows certain DNA sequences suggest a predisposition to obesity. Just knowing they have a higher risk of obesity could be enough motivation for patients to lead a healthier lifestyle or get on a proper drug regime.
Coupling genome sequencing with diagnostic testing can also determine if a patient will react to a specific treatment and will lead to new drugs that work much better, according to Hrusovsky. He cited a recent move by The Food and Drug Administration to approve a targeted skin cancer drug by Roche and a companion diagnostic test that identifies patients with a specific genetic mutation that will enable them to benefit from the drug. Hrusovsky says that drug and companion diagnostic has had a great response among patients, turning the traditional way medicine is administered on its head.
“On average, $26 billion is spent annually on cancer treatments in that category; only 25% of those drugs purchased have any positive effect,” he says.
In addition to making more effective drugs, Hrusovsky says the combination of genome sequencing and diagnostic testing can expand life expectancy, which currently stands at 77 in the U.S. Hrusovsky says the rate has stayed stagnant over the last 10 years largely because of obesity; two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. If doctors are able to correct the issue long before it becomes a problem, he says the life expectantly could conceivable expand to over 83 or 84.
While genome sequencing currently isn’t covered by insurance companies, carriers are increasingly covering genetic testing, says Hrusovsky. As the price point of these technologies come down Hrusovsky says not only will they be covered more routinely, but patients may be required to do them to get access to a treatment.
“It’s kind of like the mobile phone. People were using it back in 1985 and 1986 and all of sudden it broke into the mainstream,” says Hrusovsky. “The same thing happens with medical applications.”