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Health IT Cos See Big Pay off in Personalized Medicine

by Malorye Allison

Several health IT heavyweights are betting on big returns from personalized medicine, according to speakers at last month’s personalized medicine meeting at Harvard Medical School. Lionel Binns of Hewlett-Packard, Neil de Crescenzo of Oracle Corp, and Thomas J. Miller of Siemens, all said their companies are investing heavily in the field and as Miller put it, “Expecting double digit growth.”

“We are at $20 billion in revenue,” de Crescenzo said. “We need to look at markets that can be transformative.”

The Oracle, HP, and Siemens’ teams are all envisioning a time when doctors will regularly look at molecular diagnostic test results, such as DNA scans, to guide their prescribing decisions. Large scale computing will pull knowledge from massive databases of genomic and clinical data, helping to identify side effects, new cures, and epidemics more quickly. Consumers will play a much bigger role in managing their own care and medical data. “A genome will fit on a little bit of cell phone memory,” said George Church, a Harvard professor whom Miller described as “one of a handful of people who started the genetics revolution.” Which means consumers may carry their genomes around with them, in the ready.

Janet Dillione, CEO of Health Services at Siemens, explained that their company had started out “at the tail end” of the field with its imaging equipment. “That wasn’t all we wanted to do in health care,” she says, so ten years ago they began expanding the company’s portfolio for prevention and wrapping it in with health IT. Part of Siemens’ plan is to become a full service diagnostics company with lab tests as well as imaging.

But these speakers also agreed that many of the same nagging problems are still slowing personalized medicine down. “We must solve the privacy problem,” Dillione said. Standards, of course, are another big boondoggle. “The government should just declare ‘these are the standards’ and make them public domain. That would save so much time,” de Crescenzo said. Dillione agreed, “So little is gained from the endless iterations over standards,” she said. But without some kind of standards, it will be impossible to reach the point where researchers

The biggest change by far, however, will be shifting the twisted U.S. healthcare reimbursement system so that “you make money making people better,” said Jamie Heywood, of PatientsLikeMe.com. Currently, doctors aren’t paid based on results, and reimbursement is skewed, making some procedures much more lucrative than others. Many people see this as the central problem in health care. As de Crescenzo said, “We need to put the dead moose on the table, and that’s reimbursement.” Currently, he pointed out, diagnotics provide a massive value, but are so poorly reimbursed there is little incentive to develop them.

Another big problem is that doctors are increasingly overwhelmed by the1000s of tests, and have trouble keeping up with how to interpret the results. Eli Lilly has taken a hands on approach to this, according to Eiry W. Roberts, a vice president there. The company has created a tailored therapeutics workbench that clinicians are using internally, to test it out. Their goal is to make the information from molecular tests easily “interpretable” she said.

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