Global Leaders Unlock Ways for Precision Medicine to Fight COVID-19, Cancers and Emerging Infectious Diseases

27 May 2020

· The need to use precision medicine (including targeted vaccines and antiviral drugs) in the worldwide response to COVID-19 is widely recognized as necessary to return to normalcy – however, barriers exist to develop and distribute any effective vaccines or drugs

· To unlock the tools and data needed to develop preventive vaccines and cutting-edge treatments, over 40 leaders co-designed the first Precision Medicine Vision Statement

· Case studies illustrate solutions and pitfalls to avoid so that healthcare systems can accelerate adoption of precision medicine and better address a range of health issues from cancer to the COVID-19 crisis.

· Read the Vision Statement and learn more about the Forum’s Precision Medicine project

Geneva, Switzerland, 28 May 2020 Understanding how vulnerable a person is to a virus such as SARS-Cov-2 could help scientists and researchers tackle it. As the race for an effective vaccine to prevent COVID-19 continues, the principles of precision medicine could help, just as they helped unlock breakthrough therapeutic, diagnostic and preventive tools against cancer.

A personalized” – or precision medicine – approach can ensure the right treatment gets to the right patient at the right time. However, adoption and access have been uneven. To provide a foundation for a unified approach and to scale the benefits more easily, the World Economic Forum Global Precision Medicine Council co-designed the first set of precision medicine principles for policy-makers.

The Global Precision Medicine Vision Statement provides a baseline for fair and equal access to personalized treatment and hopes to accelerate its use by providing examples of ready-made policies and projects in place around the world. This can serve as a first step in aligning policies with the promises of precision medicine across various constituencies in this sector, from patients to policy-makers, payers and healthcare professionals.

"Precision medicine has led to remarkable advances in global health but access to treatment is not equal, ethical questions about new technologies abound and critical data is locked behind sovereign borders,” said Genya Dana, Head of Precision Medicine at the World Economic Forum. “The Precision Medicine Vision Statement should help policy-makers navigate these issues and build a common international framework to accelerate and scale access like never before. The Council worked for over a year to develop it.”

The document identifies gaps in policies that limit progress and includes models that offer guidance regarding key elements such as:

  • Building trust and engagement for direct-to-consumer genetic testing
  • Increasing access to precision therapeutics in fast-track situations
  • Structuring regulatory systems to innovate around genomic data privacy and ownership.

Recommendations and case studies from healthcare providers, technology experts, scientists and researchers on how to fill those gaps are highlighted throughout the report. Policy-makers now have a framework for how they can start building a precision medicine programme in their country and provide equitable and effective access to cutting-edge approaches to maintain health as well as to prevent and treat disease.

“We fundamentally believe that precision medicine will greatly improve patients’ healthcare outcomes,” said Jonathan Arnold, Vice-President, Head of Oncology and Precision Diagnostics, QIAGEN. “The Vision of this Council is to provide access to more patients to precision medicine, to broaden applications beyond oncology where it is focused today, to pave the way for better biomarker research and diagnostics and to bring together public and private sector partners to make precision medicine more accessible and available across the globe.”

"We’ve already made tremendous strides in cancer treatment and research, including making significant progress in precision medicine,” said Laurie H. Glimcher, MD, President and CEO Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and the Richard and Susan Smith Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Yet, we still have a long way to go — as we’re not curing most cancers. To help make global progress and continue the important research worldwide, this vision statement lays out a unified approach and guiding principles for policymakers to steer efforts in our ongoing and relentless pursuit of better treatments and cures for cancer.”

Precision Medicine Vision Statement

Precision Medicine for all can be achieved if we:

  • Ensure transparency around personal health data collection and use
  • Prohibit personal health data being used for discriminatory purposes
  • Modernize drug approval processes to enable accelerated access
  • Revamp models for intellectual property and patenting of biomarkers
  • Facilitate architecture for data sharing, findability, accessibility, interoperability and reusability
  • Develop culturally conscious and mutually beneficial ways of engaging populations that have not traditionally been part of research

“There is vast potential to use high computing capabilities to realize the promise of precision medicine, but we first must address the challenge that individualized data is from very select populations and not representative of all people,” said Nancy Brown, Chief Executive Officer, American Heart Association. “Our work with the World Economic Forum Global Precision Medicine Council will help create frameworks and guidelines to inspire individuals to confidently share their data, especially from diverse populations, and optimize that data to accelerate science and improve health outcomes.”

The science which underpins precision medicine is already translating into safe and effective new therapies around the world,” said George Demetri, MD, Deputy Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum Global Precision Medicine Council and Professor at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School. “This has really been in the forefront of public attention with the COVID-19 pandemic. Research into cancer, HIV/AIDS and successful prevention of infectious diseases such as smallpox and polio have paved the way for many applications of precision medicine globally. However, the public policy implications remain obscure and often serve as barriers to effective mobilization of resources such as data. With this first small step of developing a vision statement for precision medicine, we hope to provide solutions and identify ongoing challenges to be overcome as we search together for ways of improving public health in the most effective and sustainable ways possible.”

"Removing the logistical and financial barriers to precision medicine is the key to wider accessibility and global adoption," said Othman Laraki, Chief Executive Office, Color. "This global pandemic has further highlighted the need to ensure these alternative access models to this technology are successful. The World Economic Forum is setting an example by gathering this Council to develop a roadmap to accelerate the responsible adoption of these technologies across the world."

Precision Medicine Global Council

The World Economic Forum formed the Global Precision Medicine Council in 2018 to identify and evaluate challenges to the implementation of precision medicine in different settings, countries, cultures and socioeconomic environments.

The American Heart Association, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and QIAGEN are some of the more than 40 leaders that make up the Council.

The Council aims to help shape the global narrative on policy and governance for precision medicine in a constructive way that learns from prior examples of both success and ongoing improvements. Members determined that it would be helpful to construct a set of broad categories of gaps in policy or governance that impede the implementation and acceptance of precision medicine.

They formed working groups to identify key challenges. The paper launched today represents the initial vision statement from the Council. It is meant to serve as a document to start the conversations towards even more substantive discussions in the search for meaningful long-term solutions and impact.

Notes to editors

Read more about the Forum’s Precision Medicine project and the Future of Health and Health Platform
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