Personalised medicine via genome tests soon

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In what it calls a breakthrough, Apollo Hospitals and its partner Strand Life Sciences have decided to offer genomic testing to patients, inching closer to providing personalised medicine based on analyses of genes.

The phenomenon is picking up steam in India, as already there are six to seven companies looking at offering such tests towards personalised medication.

Genomic testing involves analysing patient genomes — genes and sequences of DNA/RNA, taken from samples like saliva or blood. This can help physicians and specialist doctors map medication as these tests assess the patient’s ability to cope with drugs. Health outcomes are touted to be better in such treatments, though only for some diseases.

Ambitious ab­out the taking off of the newly introduced concept in India, Apollo’s subsidiary Sapien Biosciences and Bangalore-based Strand Life Sciences have decided to conduct these tests in areas like oncology, cardiovascular, heritable eye diseases and rare genetic disorders.

“Personalised medicine has limited uses in terms of prediction of diseases yet it can be helpful in drug targeting and finding out which patients can benefit from what kind of medicine. Enthusiasm in the US faded as it was found that except for a few diseases, it could not be useful, for instance in single gene disorders,” said Prof K Srinath Reddy, president of Public Health Foundation of India, a non-profit.

“The concept was introduced to India only about 12 months ago. The interest levels are high now and I am expecting it to evolve in a manner that it would become mainstay practice in the next five years. Going forward there will definitely be a reduction in prices, making it available for a larger population,” said Sangita Reddy, joint managing director of Apollo Hospitals.

Right now, these tests by Strand cost around Rs 20,000-40,000 (for cancer) and are designed to identify the specific, and often novel, mutations that lead to the disease progression. In fact, both the companies also hope that because of relatively lower pricing of the tests, it could attract patients from neighbouring countries and attract medical tourism now.

“Strand works with 50 hospitals and a large network of clinics in India and parts of Africa and is innovating to make genomic tests affordable. It is a new type of medical practice and doctors need an initial education, run through the samples and notice the value. While the medical council of India has not approved it, the completely new approach will only grow now on,” said Vijay Chandru, chairman and chief executive officer, Strand Life Sciences.

With 2,000 research labs globally, Strand had been conducting these tests for past 10 years or so and would now get samples from Apollo’s patient base which could provide impetus to further research in the genomic testing area.

There also exist other companies like NutraGene, Mapmygenome, Medgenome, Avesthagen, Xcode Lifescinces offering such services across the country.

These tests touted to help the patient benefit from optimised clinical care, personalisation of treatment and monitoring of outcomes, amounting to roughly ten per cent of the total care cost. The costs are expected to drop by as much as 50 per cent in the next three years.

“In countries like Japan, there is high prevalence of carcinoma of stomach and the government allowed elective screening of the population for existence of the gene such that preventive steps can be taken. However, in a developing country like India one has to be careful and factors like interest of the company and the interest of the local population should be taken into consideration. The data base should be prevalent,” said Dr K Ramesh Reddy, member of the medical council of India.

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