Local companies moving into the field of personal genomic medicine could realize commercial possibilities earning billions of dollars by the next decade.
Call it “Brave New Medicine.”
The San Diego area is well positioned to contribute to the growth of a whole new area of biomedical technology and see a positive effect on the local economy, asserted Greg Lucier, chairman and chief executive officer of Life Technologies Corp., a company that sells tools and equipment used in biological research.
Lucier runs the $3.6 billion Carlsbad-based company that’s getting a running start by its acquisition of companies advancing the field of personal genomic medicine, with the most synergies in the area of individualized cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Lucier and Wain Fishburn, a founding partner of Cooley LLP’s San Diego office, hosted a fireside chat on the future of personalized genomic medicine and potential business opportunities for Biocom’s Oct. 26 breakfast meeting at the Hyatt Regency La Jolla at Aventine. Nearly 200 people attended.
Biocom is the largest regional life sciences association in the world, representing more than 550 member companies in Southern California.
The most important aspect of personal genomics is that it may eventually lead to a much more personalized medicine, where patients can take specific drugs that are individually targeted for medical treatments, said Fishburn, vice chairman of the Biocom board of directors and the founding partner of a law office with an active practice serving technology and life sciences companies.
“We want to promote the advantages of being here to advance the field,” said Fishburn. “It is a growing industry with tremendous potential for future growth.”
He said San Diego’s intellectual capital of pioneering scientists, physicians and researchers at various hospitals and institutes could contribute important initiatives to advance genomic medicine.
Local technology companies such as Illumina Inc. and Life Technologies are making strides in the area of genetic variation and function, said Fishburn, adding that the greatest commercial opportunities will come from the research markets “and the pharmaceutical spend.”
There is great interest in the subject as medical science realizes that not all treatments get to the core of diseases, especially cancer, said Lucier. “Too many doctors today are forced to practice trial-and-error medicine,” he said. In many cases, “one in five cancer drugs is wrong for your cancer.
“We can do better than that.”
At the present time, full genome sequencing provides raw data on all 6 billion letters in an individual’s DNA. But it doesn’t provide an analysis of what that data means or how they can be utilized in various clinical applications, such as in medicine to help prevent disease.
The companies that are working on full genome sequencing do not provide clinical analytical services for the interpretation of the raw genetic data to make it useful to physicians and patients.
The most help for these companies will come from businesses operating in the areas of bioengineering and computational tracking, Lucier said.
But there will be hurdles, especially on the regulatory end, once genomic research tools are in the works. Decisions by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration tend to favor safety, mitigation of risk, which may not always work for every cancer patient, said Lucier.
In the world of personal genomics medicine, “You are your own control group in which only certain therapeutics can make a difference,” said Lucier.
“That’s what we’re calling the trial of ‘one’ ” after genetically sequencing the mutations a person has in his or her DNA and finding the therapeutics that will work, he said.
“The FDA needs to game up unless they want to forestall a renaissance in cancer care,” said Fishburn. Greater strides in genomics can help lead to certain types of cancer being solved and managed — but probably not cured — in the next decade, he added.
“Increasingly, most cancer treatments will resemble those currently used to help people suffering from AIDS and HIV. Imagine most kinds of terminal cancers as chronic, managed diseases in which a ‘cocktail approach’ would have the most efficacy,” said Fishburn.
Critical to the advancement of the science will be the use of supercomputers with the ability to read the genome and provide baseline data in a matter of hours, not days.
To that end, Life Technologies recently acquired Ion Torrent Systems Inc., a company which uses semiconductor technology to read genomes. The Connecticut firm recently was acquired for $700 million. Lucier said instrument-driven investments will help companies like his make greater inroads into the personal genome information service sector.