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Powered by advancements in obtaining and evaluating patient data, the healthcare segment is moving towards tailor-made approaches in the prevention and treatment of diseases. Patented inventions, including winners and finalists of the European Inventor Award are leading the way into the new era of personalised medicine.
The future of healthcare will probably be personal. For a growing number of patients today, visits to the doctor revolve around individualised genomic data, such as DNA markers linked to specific diseases and the efficacy of certain drugs.
Based on this patient-specific DNA data, healthcare providers can make informed choices about prescribing medications that work better for patients with specific DNA profiles, while avoiding medications established as less effective or dangerous. Doctors can also leverage DNA data to schedule specific preventative screenings and initiate targeted, genetic therapies.
Prof. Zatloukal of Graz University explains how biobanks contribute to a revolution in medicine, walking away from one-fits-all to individual treatments, and from cure to prevention
This new era of personalised medicine is powered by three key developments:
1. Advancements in mapping the human genome and obtaining DNA data
2. Efficient analysis of DNA data stored in genetic databases (known as "biobanks") with powerful algorithms
3. Breakthroughs in "targeted therapies" based on genetic research
The rise of personalised medicine is also changing the intellectual property landscape: Over the past decade, the number of patent applications related to Medical Technologies at the European Patent Office (EPO) has climbed from 7238 applications in 2004 to 10 668 in 2013.
Meanwhile, patent applications in the Pharmaceuticals segment have trended slightly downward, suggesting that personalised medicine marks a paradigm shift towards healthcare more concerned with the prevention and targeted management of diseases than treatment with "one-size-fits-all" pharmaceuticals.
Overall, personalised medicine has emerged as a booming market: In 2013, the global market for DNA-sequencing products and services was worth US $4.5 billion and is expected to reach $11.7 billion in 2018 according to analysts at BCC Research.
One of Europe's largest cell and tissue repositories, or biobanks, is Paris-based Genethon. The global market for biobanks is expected to reach over US $22.3 billion by 2017.
The success of the Human Genome Project marked a blue-sky moment in the personalised medicine field: In the year 2000, US-researchers Craig Venter and Francis Collins completed mapping three billion base pairs of human DNA. For the first time in history, the "blueprint of life" had been decoded.
Since then, progress has followed a steep trajectory: The initial mapping of the human genome took 13 years and over US$ 3 billion. Today's state-of-the art DNA sequencing machines can achieve the same feat over night, at $1000 per genome.
While costs have fallen, the computing power of DNA sequencing machines has increased - powered by a number of patented inventions - further pushing personalised medicine into the mainstream.
One of the major scientific breakthroughs in DNA analysis won the European Inventor Award in 2006 in the "Small and medium-sized enterprises" (SMEs) category: The "DNA Chip" invented by Stephen P.A. Fodor, Michael C. Pirrung, J. Leighton Read and Lubert Stryer proved quantum leap in the amount of DNA data researchers can analyse in the shortest-possible amount of time.
In 2013, Swedish inventor Pål Nyrén was honoured with the European Inventor Award in the category SMEs with a new, efficient DNA sequencing method: Marketed by Biotage AB, it uses the photo-reactive properties of chemicals and DNA enzymes to identify DNA sequences.
The building blocks for new, targeted therapies - namely DNA and RNA components - can be produced cost-efficiently and on an industrial scale thanks to the invention by Polish researcher Wojciech Stec, a finalist for the European Inventor Award in the year 2006.
Breakthrough therapies include genetically engineered components such as the Anti-VEGF antibodies that stop the blood supply of cancerous tumours. Invented by a team at US pharmaceutical company Genentech, the invention was a finalist for the European Inventor Award 2010 in the "Non-European Countries" category.
Custom-made proteins synthesised according to a method developed by European Inventor Award 2012 finalists Jason Chin and Oliver Rackham are revolutionising therapeutics, such as insulin treatment, and can be used to detect prostate, ovarian, and colon cancer.
From a patient perspective, the era of personalised medicine holds the promise of an unprecedented level of individualised diagnostics and treatments. However, this bright new future poses a number of challenges to the healthcare industry.
As sequencing of the entire genome replaces single-gene tests, an overwhelming amount of data becomes available - and needs to be analysed. A "genomic tsunami" is approaching, warns the European Society of Human Genetics.
In order to manage the increasing amounts of patient data and control information sharing among researchers and the proprietors of biobanks, the European Union has launched the "IT Future of Medicine" (ITFoM) initiative. The initiative is a major step towards ensuring that, in the era of healthcare powered by "big data", the focus remains on the individual patient.