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The personalized medicine revolution is no longer coming. It has arrived. That’s the conclusion of a new report from SAP and Oxford Economics, which surveyed 120 healthcare professionals from 8 countries in Europe and North America.

Ever faster and cheaper genetic testing has paved the way for personalized medicine. This burgeoning technology, which provides data on everything from how patients metabolize drugs to the genetic makeup of a cancer, enables targeted treatment. President Obama recognized its potential to transform healthcare when he announced the $215 million Precision Medicine Initiative, which is designed to support efforts to usher in this new era of medicine.

Within 5 years, 54% of those surveyed said they expected their organization to be equally focused on providing “mass market,” or traditional care, and personalized approaches. That compares with 30% today.

The most common conditions using personalized medicine today, respondents reported, were diabetes (45%), common cancers (38%), and neurological diseases (33%). Those numbers are all set to increase significantly within just 2 years.

Other findings from the report:

  • More than two-thirds of respondents reported improved patient outcomes from their personalized medicine initiatives, and three-quarters expected value in this area within 2 years.
  • Personalized medicine allows physicians to treat more patients without sacrificing quality.
  • Participants are restructuring their privacy policies to account for the personalized approach to research and treatment, as well as increasing the security of patient data. Yet just a third of respondents said they are able to protect the identity of individual patients involved in personalized trials or treatments.

Facing the Challenges in Personalized Medicine

“Personalized” medicine suggests treating one patient at a time with an individualized approach. However, the reality is that using data generated by hundreds or even thousands of patients can help clinicians hone in on the most appropriate treatment for patients with certain genetic fingerprints. This, in turn, requires that institutions share data to create enormous databases capable of spitting out actionable information.

Yet, as Eduardo M. Sotomayor, MD, who directs the George Washington University Cancer Center in Washington, DC, told interviewers for the report: “Changing the culture around data sharing remains one of the most daunting challenges in personalized medicine.”

Other challenges include getting information technology systems to work together, such as integrating the electronic health record with genetic databases and other data warehouses. Analyzing the “big data” generated represents another area in which significant investment is required. And, of course, there is the cost issue. While most respondents expected personalized medicine to result in cost savings over time, the initial investment can be significant.

“It’s very exciting, but extremely expensive,” said Catherine Seiler, PhD, program manager for the biobank core facility at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix. “It involves an enormous amount of buy-in, both financially and also time-wise, to implement it, but the potential outcomes are phenomenal.”