THE announcement by technology companies, like Microsoft and Google, to invest in procurements and foundations that advance artificial intelligence, machine learning, bioinformatics and other next-generation healthcare advancement shows that these tech companies are capitalising on the move towards precision medicine.
Precision medicine, or personalised medicine as it is sometimes known, is changing the world of healthcare by leveraging genomic testing and tailored treatment that are spurred by the advances in genomic and proteomic science.
Some technology companies are providing the computational power to accelerate the process of genome sequencing, while others are exploring other business opportunities, from providing data storage, mining and analysis to developing information technology infrastructure and connectivity solutions to support research.
The interconnections between these novel innovations and wearable technology, along with skilful geneticists, scientists and bioinformaticians, will make it possible to spur the move to an era of truly personalised healthcare.
Over the past decade, the expenses of genome sequencing have plummeted, resulting in an explosion of information. While access to information is widely available, the infrastructure and expertise to collect, analyse, integrate, share and mine information remain limited.
While countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States have launched high-profile genomic projects and initiatives in precision medicine, with allocation of millions of dollars on research grants, our country has not invested enough in these initiatives, especially in the interconnected information technology infrastructure.
High costs of such initiatives and lack of public awareness and campaign may have contributed to its lack of impact. But, the move for change in Malaysia is inevitable.
Financial investment by the government would provide a robust line-up of bioinformaticians to enable pooling and performing deep analysis of big data projects and initiatives focusing on non-communicable diseases, whole genome sequencing on cancers, rare diseases and pathogens, leading to a cohort project which promises to shape not only the lasting impact of but also the perception of precision medicine in Malaysia.
There should be a concerted effort to train and promote genomic scientists and bioinformaticians in the country. The education curricula need to be revised to adequately inform the population and possible consumers of genetic testing, with reference to the basic aspects of genomic medicine.
Legislation, such as the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which was approved in the US for precision medicine, needs to be considered for our country without inflicting conflict.
As the major funder of healthcare, the government has a profound influence in shaping the future of precision medicine in this country by providing grants to universities, funding research in medical academic centres and research institutes, tax subsidies and other protections to promote diagnostic and pharmaceutical companies to develop new targeted tests and therapies. Also, the sustainable success of precision medicine depends on a long-term vision of the government for implementing reimbursement and regulatory policies, as well as for addressing issues such as data privacy and intellectual property rights to genomic discoveries.
If Malaysia wants to compete with other developed countries in the pursuit of personalised treatment and precision medicine, the government needs to initiate judicious measures to improvise, as well as to strengthen the management strategy of healthcare in the country. Ready or not, we must ride the wave of personalised medicine and be the force to be reckoned with.
Wan Nur Hatin and Prof Zilfalil Alwi
Malaysian Node of the Human Variome Project, Kota Baru, Kelantan