Genomic Medicine Has Entered the Building

As the promises of genomics are starting to come to fruition, hospitals need to start preparing for the changes genomics will bring to health care.

Thousands of Americans are being treated, or are changing their treatments, based on information from genome testing. The cost of whole exome sequencing, which reveals the entire protein-coding portion of DNA, is about the same as an MRI exam in many parts of the country.

This genome revolution has been most apparent in the realm of cancer treatment.

Companies like GRAIL, Inc. are moving ahead with large-scale genome sequencing projects, in partnership with the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic, the U.S. Oncology Network, and others to collect data from consenting patients.

“We are finding great enthusiasm as people want to participate in this effort, both patients and physicians,” said Mark Lee, M.D., Head of Clinical Development and Medical Affairs at GRAIL.

GRAIL has been backed by investors including McKesson Ventures, Bill Gates, and Amazon.

Genomic medicine has advanced to the point that genes and their variants can now be used to target appropriate drug treatments. For example, in May, the FDA approved pembrolizumab (Keytruda) to treat unresectable or metastatic solid tumors with a specific genetic biomarker, no matter where that tumor is in the body.

Clinical trials matching gene markers with targeted treatment are only expected to increase, and identification of genomic targets is rapidly becoming an essential part of care.

Genetic testing also helps medical professionals to diagnose and treat rare diseases. Rather than having patients bounce from doctor to doctor with numerous vague symptoms, medical professionals can now use genomic sequencing to provide a definitive diagnosis, and thus a path to treatment.

As genomic sequencing becomes less expensive, more people are having their DNA sequenced to detect underlying genetic defects. From an estimated 1,000 genetic tests available five years ago, the field has grown to more than 52,000 available in the U.S. For more information, visit the National Center for Biotechnology Information’s Genetic Testing Registry website.

This article originally appeared in Hospitals & Health Networks.