Howard Jacob, Executive Vice President of Genomic Medicine at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, was named a 2016 Future Maker at this week's Bio International Convention, a San Francisco gathering of more than 15,000 biotechnology and pharma leaders. Members of the biotech community nominated and voted on their best and brightest colleagues who are driving change and innovation. Jacob was recognized for his efforts to harness the power of the genomic sequence to change medicine. The first person in history to use genome sequencing to diagnose, treat, and cure a patient, Jacob launched the world's first genomic medicine program. We are resharing here his presentation on the topic at the 2015 Oliver Wyman Health Innovation Summit (see video). Reporter Alden Hayashi summarized Jacob’s insights:
If you needed to fix an airplane, you wouldn’t think of taking it to a mechanic who didn’t have an engineering blueprint of that specific aircraft. But that’s exactly what you do whenever you’re sick and visit a doctor. That is, you rely on physicians to treat you even though they don’t have your specific blueprint, otherwise known as your individual genome sequence. Medical treatment without that crucial information simply has to change in the future, asserted personalized medicine expert Howard Jacob.
Jacob explained that healthcare to date has generally been about averages, such as “take two aspirins every four hours,” whereas it needs to become much more personalized. Perhaps Shaquille O’Neal should be taking three aspirins, Jacob noted, whereas Danica Patrick should be taking just one. Only with genome sequencing will healthcare be able to move from such gross averages to a much higher precision. And not only will doctors be able to provide better treatment for any specific disease. They will know, for example, exactly how your body will respond to a particular drug, and they’ll also be able to diagnose disorders more accurately in the first place.
According to Jacob, about 5% of diagnoses are inaccurate, and the average physician makes 62 misdiagnoses every year. But that’s because doctors have thus far lacked specific blueprints for individual patients. Genome sequencing will provide those blueprints. “Think of what we could do if we had the genome information for every person,” said Jacob. One large obstacle to this more personalized reality, however, has been costs. It currently costs several thousand dollars to sequence a person’s genome. That figure, though, should decline to less than $1,000 as the technology continues to mature and progress down a learning curve.
To accelerate that process, Jacob suggested focusing on the estimated 25 million people in the United States who have some type of rare disorder. Those individuals are more likely to be misdiagnosed, often leading to delayed or inappropriate treatment. And the impact of such errors goes well beyond the financial costs. Think of a mother, Jacob said, who has to bring her son to one specialist after another in search of the reason for his illness. If her son’s genome sequence were known, doctors would be better able to identify the underlying disease. And even if there’s no cure for that illness, added Jacob, there would still be tremendous value in letting the mother know that she had done everything she could for her son, as opposed to having her search endlessly to determine the nature of his ailment.