5 minute read 15 Nov 2019
Holding a chip

Why precision medicine is the new normal

By Lucien De Busscher

EY WEM Life Sciences Leader

Pharma. Med Device. Healthcare. Performance Improvement. Finance. Supply Chain. Post merger integration

5 minute read 15 Nov 2019

How can the new ecosystem join forces in the search for innovative tailor-made medical solutions for the patient?

Medical science is currently evolving at a rapid pace. Classical cancer treatments are slowly but surely giving way to cell and gene therapy. Precision medicine seems to be making a definite breakthrough and insights in epigenetics are supplementing patient pathways. This will increase our life expectancy and quality of life. But these trends come with a pricetag. How can pharmaceutical companies, biotech companies, med device companies, dataplatform companies, universities, patient organizations, hospitals and payors join forces in the search for innovative tailor-made medical solutions for the patient?

The cost of new medical treatments

Who does not wish to live a long and healthy life? Some people even yearn for eternal life. There have been spectacular improvements in medical science in recent decades, such as cell and gene therapy in oncology. In the future, new technologies will continue to have a positive impact on medical treatments.

The other side of the coin, however, is that new medical applications can be extremely expensive. They cost much more than traditional treatments. Does the government (and therefore the taxpayer) have to foot this bill?

Prevention better than treatment

When looking at the medicine of the future, this motto should be taken literally. The rise in epigenetics – the study of biological mechanisms that will switch genes on and off – can lead to an evolution from symptom control to prevention (for example, by adjusting lifestyle and nutrition). As a result, we can stop diseases, reduce the associated medical costs, identify them earlier and offer medical care tailored to the patient’s needs.

Preventive medicine is the future. Governments can play a key role here, for example by offering incentives to companies that deploy business models for prevention.

The path to precision medicine

Pharma companies are evaluating their blockbuster or product only strategy. ‘Beyond the pill thinking’ became key to compete. Governments are pushing for proven outcomes. With outcomes come prevention and an individualized patient approach.

If you mention ‘individualized’, you mention ‘data platforms’. This is why companies such as Google or Amazon are appearing on the healthcare scene.
They hold incredible amounts of data. If this data is combined with genetic data, progress can be made with an hyper-personalized approach for each patient.

Patients must take some responsibility too

Patients, too, must assume their responsibilities. Patients can, for example, demonstrate their medication regime or diet using a medical app. At the same time, pharmaceutical companies or health service providers will only be allowed to supply health insurers if they can demonstrate that the patient’s outcome improves significantly. They will evolve in variable contracting with governments.

This way of working has yet to be established in Belgium but is already reality in the US. There, individuals or companies sign a health care contract often making medical treatment twice as efficient.

Medical treatments can become twice as effective if sufficient effort is made to monitor patient behaviour, such as the following of a diet or the taking of medication. A hyper-personalized approach using big data by insurance companies, combined with genetic data, opens up many new perspectives in the field of precision medicine.

Building a new ecosystem together with start-ups

Start-ups and scale-ups have the drive to invent and launch innovative projects. EY has a great deal of expertise that can be used to match up these ambitious companies with larger companies. We also act as a link between pharmaceutical companies and governments, for example to validate the efficacy of a medicine.

In any event, policymakers and life sciences companies in Europe need to broaden their horizons. What is needed is a new ecosystem with more personalized medicine and more clinical studies that look for broad variation in the research population.

Pointellis: a high-way of medical data

Together with Microsoft, EY has developed the solution ‘Pointellis’. This solution can best be compared to a kind of highway of medical data that – in a safe and protected environment – can be exchanged between hospitals, laboratories, pharmaceutical companies and other partners in the medical sector.

When cancer patients have come to the end of their treatment doctors replace classical therapies with experimental cell & gene therapies. DNA cutting and pasting, in order to correct genetic errors. However, this global approach requires a very rapid response and a high level of safety. This is where Pointellis comes in.

Moving towards great results

Thanks to the use of blockchain technology, we strictly monitor the chain of custody and identity as well as the privacy of each patient. In any event, it is clear that a solution like Pointellis has the potential to become a great success. Currently, the results are very limited with only a few hundred patients being able to enjoy the benefits but the results will soon increase exponentially. EY has already signed eight contracts with large pharmaceutical companies.

We encourage start-ups to develop services that can enrich our platform. With Pointellis, EY has certainly demonstrated its willingness to invest in service platforms, which can encourage start-ups to work with us on similar platforms.

Today, most people are not yet familiar with new techniques such as immunotherapy, DNA sequencing or gene therapy. But this will soon change.

How will the medical sector evolve in the future?

Organizations that focus too much on a siloed ‘medical sector’ are doomed to fail. Now is the time to make a switch to ecosystems, with patients, consumers, doctors, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, ... being the key players.

Today, most people are not yet familiar with new techniques such as immunotherapy, DNA sequencing or gene therapy. But this will soon change, because changes in prevention detection and treatment are are evolving exponentially. We are convinced that, within a few years, classic therapies will be replaced with completely new ones, in favour of more efficient, personalized solutions, known by everybody. Just like Uber and Booking.com, they will soon reach their tipping point.

It is important we adjust our perception of new technologies. We often think too much along the lines of doom we see in the science fiction movies. Success stories and the exchange of information play a crucial role in this.

Staying critical for ethical aspects

A better insight into DNA-related diseases and their corresponding solutions raises questions in terms of safety and ethics. Regulatory frameworks around sensitive areas such as selective genetic modifications, are still to be drafted.         


Read more about this topic in our longread with De Tijd / L’Echo.

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Precision medicine is gaining importance in the medical field, with cell and gene therapy and epigenetics playing a prominent role. One has to ask, though, who will pay for this? Government can play a key role by offering incentives and raising awareness. A hyper-personalized approach is the next step. Start-ups and scale-ups have the drive to innovate, and EY has the expertise to support them.

About this article

By Lucien De Busscher

EY WEM Life Sciences Leader

Pharma. Med Device. Healthcare. Performance Improvement. Finance. Supply Chain. Post merger integration