Health 2.0 sat down with Linda Molnar to discuss the evolution of Precision Health, the imperatives at stake in a fast-paced field, and empowerment through big data. Linda has over 20 years in the field of Life Sciences and is responsible for a number of initiatives that further the field with start-ups, the feds, and for investors. Her current endeavor is leading the upcoming Technology for Precision Health Summit in San Francisco alongside Health 2.0. “We’re never going to pull together all of this disparate data from disparate sources in a meaningful (i.e. clinically actionable) way, unless we talk about it” she says. The Summit is an attempt to bring together the worlds of Precision Medicine and Digital Healthcare to realize the full potential of a predictive and proactive approach to maintaining health.
Health 2.0 – Let’s start by getting our vocabulary right… There has been some confusion around the terms Precision Medicine versus Precision Health. Can you break it down for us?
Linda Molnar – The terminology has evolved as the technologies have evolved. First, we had Personalized Medicine – matching the right drug to the right patient. You had to wait until you felt ill before being diagnosed and then we could tailor a therapy to an individual’s own genetics and physiology. As technologies developed further, next came the concept of Personalized Health – a shift toward greater emphasis on prediction and prevention of disease. New areas such as Big Data and the availability of low cost cloud computing have evolved, so we have come to use the terms Precision Medicine for matching the right therapies to the right patient and Precision Health to predict and prevent disease – both powered by Big Data.
Give us some context as to the recent history of Precision Medicine and what do you see as the catalyzing factors that have brought us to Precision Health?
There is a confluence of technology development across all sectors that has contributed to the potential for Precision Health, notably widespread availability and use of the smartphone, low cost cloud computing, and wearable technologies that have occurred alongside scientific developments in gene sequencing and biology.
Regarding other fields of innovation – healthcare and otherwise – who are joining the frontlines of Precision Health, where is this coming to life and what’s the best place for complementary fields to plug in?
I see a lot of activity coming from the tech sector. Both interest from technologists looking to make a difference as well as new investors in the healthcare space who come from tech backgrounds. Having the sort of live discussion, open-forum experience that we’re creating for the inaugural Technology for Precision Health Summit is so crucial. There is a real convergence of fields here and we need to communicate and collaborate with each other. That’s specifically why I like Health 2.0’s format of incorporating live technology demos into the discussion. I suggest that newcomers join diverse ecosystems, such as we see in the Bay Area and in Boston, where there is a real vibrancy of folks from different backgrounds and, most importantly, a willingness to feel a little uncomfortable and keep on learning.
What diseases and conditions can benefit most from Precision Medicine and Precision Health?
Whenever you want to do something innovative with patients, it makes sense to work with patients for whom taking that risk is justified. This naturally points more to serious diseases such as cancer and less so to more chronic conditions. That said, I believe that predictive analytics will play a large role in looking at individuals and across populations to predict and prevent all diseases. First though, we need to prove this with appropriate studies and get the right policy incentives in place.
Even considering how far the field and science has come, where is the next gap in the care continuum we’re looking at today?
The real gap now is policy – ideally we can create an incentivization that affects the entire ecosystem towards a model of disease prevention. These incentives should be both financial and behavioral.
What will it take for widespread clinical adoption? Enough say, for my GP and I to have conversations and develop care plans based on my genome sequencing?
Education. Namely, how can we quickly educate and assimilate all of this new information – to consumers, to patients, to caregivers, to providers, to everyone in the ecosystem – within an environment that is incredibly fast paced.
What do you make of initiatives that ask you to opt-in to donating your genetic and health data, say after a test like Color Genomics? Tell us a bit more about the opportunity for the individual to contribute to the larger good of research.
Those initiatives can be good as long as those organizations give back by sharing their findings and are in fact contributing to the larger good of research. I get a little concerned with organizations that look to monetize patient data for their own benefit. Rather, monetization of a patient’s data by the patient is an opportunity for incentivizing those very patients.
What can we do as informed consumers who are curious about Precision Health?
I think that getting involved in some of the initiatives out there doing longer term longitudinal studies would be a big contribution to the field for those that have the financial and other resources to do so. As a community, we need to be cautious about pseudo-science and keep our standards high. Importantly, we also need to be respectful of the individuals who do not have the desire to engage with this information. Overall I believe in consumer empowerment, so long as we are able to move people from a place of fear to that of empowerment.
Give us your blue-sky dream for what true innovation in care delivery could look like for the next generation.
We need interventions – interventions that prevent the disease or at least lessen the severity. This is the next step forward. It will take time to develop these interventions and it needs to be done thoughtfully and carefully. The technologies needed to do this are converging as we speak, so I am very optimistic about this future reaching us sooner rather than later.
Join Linda Molnar at the Technology for Precision Summit next month in San Francisco. On December 12 a group of technologists, scientists, and healthcare professionals will meet to enhance dialogue and expedite innovation behind the field of Precision Health. Get your ticket here.