At a recent event held by The Atlantic, scientists and researchers joined others in the biopharmaceutical industry to discuss genomics' ever-evolving and critically important role in treating disease. Speakers discussed topics including tailored drug therapies, newly developed approaches to vaccine administration, the changing face of research and recent advances with the human genome.
The event included dialogue with Dr. Claire Pomeroy, President and CEO of the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation; Robert Hugin, Executive Chairman of Celgene; and Dr. Ripley Ballou, Vice President of GSK and head of GSK Global Vaccines.
The latest advancements in genomics have produced a seismic shift in how once fatal diseases are now treated. Dr. Claire Pomeroy described the beginning of her career as an HIV doctor, and how drastically patient treatment has changed as a result of genotyping: "I trained as an HIV doctor, and when I look back at the beginning of my career, there was nothing for me to do other than support my patients as they were dying. With genotyping, however, we were able to better understand the individual viruses and give patients drugs to help them respond. That changed everything." Today, safe and effective antiretroviral therapy medicines suppress the virus and prolong the lives of those living with HIV/AIDS, turning what was once a death sentence into a manageable chronic disease for many. In fact, a new study from the Antiretroviral Therapy Cohort Collaboration (ART-CC) found that HIV patients in Europe and North America treated with a combination of three or more antiretroviral therapy (ART) medicines can achieve the same life expectancy of people without HIV.
Despite advancements like these, however, Celgene's Robert Hugin acknowledged that there is still much to be done. He specifically emphasized the continued importance of breaking down patient populations in the quest to better understand diseases and develop personalized treatments accordingly. "There is not one breast cancer, there are hundreds," Hugin says. "The ability to redefine disease as we know it, and then attack it in its fundamental genomic identification–that is progress."
GSK's Ripley Ballou, speaking on the same issue, explained that there would not be a path forward when it comes to stopping certain diseases without the genomic revolution. Genomic mapping enables reverse vaccinology, Ballou remarked, which means that we're no longer operating via an empirical method that relies on trial and error. "The genomics revolution eliminates some of the guesswork and allows us to sequence an entire genome of a virus, determining the proteins needed to create an effective vaccine. We’ve moved the starting point forward."