The perfect match
The year 2010 marks the 10th anniversary of the unravelling of the human genome. It is also the year when this gigantic enterprise starts to live up to its hype. The term “personalised medicine” encapsulates this. There is still some way to go in translating this appealing notion to healthcare as a whole, but elements of personalised medicine, such as companion diagnostics, are now in regular use. And the hype of 2000 – that pharmacogenomics would make it possible to develop drugs to fit the specific genetic characteristics of individual patients, is on its way to reality. Of course, biology is far more complex than the simplistic hype of the time implied. Very few diseases are caused by a single gene mutation. And whatever the genetic predispositions of an individual to a particular disease, environmental factors of food and life style play a key role in the initiation and development of disease. Indeed, this very fact has just persuaded the food giant Nestlé to fund 200 researchers in a new lab at the Swiss Institute of Technology of Lausanne (EPFL) dedicated to “personalised nutrition”. That Nestlé thinks it is time to make this investment is testament to the advances of the past ten years, when science and technology have fast converged to make personalised nutrition, personalised medicine and personalised healthcare a reality. While sequencing a single human gene once took years and cost billions of dollars, we are fast-approaching the symbolic price of $1,000 per genome that will allow such tests to become routine. Meanwhile, scientists are increasingly able to identify biomarkers or molecular “signatures” of specific metabolic conditions and disease states, making it possible to tailor food to prevent diseases, develop diagnostics for earlier detection of disease and inform the development of more efficient drugs. Drugs will be adapted - if not for an individual patient - for groups of patients sharing similar biomarkers.
The current evolution will pave the way to a revolution in medical care. Symptom-based diagnosis and the one-size-fits-all model of drug treatments that has dominated for the last 100 years will be replaced by molecular diagnostics and matching highly-efficient drugs. As you’ll discover in this first issue of Technology by Bilan, a magazine devoted to research and development in the BioAlps life science cluster of Western Switzerland, this revolution is embraced by stakeholders across the spectrum, from fundamental scientists (see the profile of Stylianos Antonarakis on page 25) to investors (see the interview with Francisco de Robertis of the venture capital firm Index Ventures on page 30). One remarkable fact became evident during our investigation: the Health Valley of Western Switzerland sees more opportunities than risks in the paradigm shift to personalised medicine. That is because the exceptional outputs of its scientific community and the strength of the region’s technological know-how – especially in miniaturisation – naturally converge to generate innovation in this emerging field. In BioAlps, high-tech companies and labs are already building the “bricks” or what may be regarded as the “smart phones” of personalised medicine: technology platforms and hardware for easy-to-use molecular diagnostic devices. Meanwhile, scientists and drug development companies are providing the “mortar” or applications, such as biomarkers for early detection of diseases, as companion diagnostics to ensure patients get the right drug first time, and to assess the response to a drug. That is a perfect match.Fabrice DelayeEDITOR of technology by bilan