Health Care

Big Data in the Life Sciences: Towards Better Patient Care

 BigdataIs it time for Healthcare to make its revolution? The use of data analytics is exploding under the combined pressures of emerging personalized medicine and the ever-increasing volume of genomic data. Taking advantage of developments in informatics technology, improved computing power and data storage, innovations in life science applications are growing exponentially. All around the world, healthcare clusters are flourishing such as in: Boston, San Diego, North Carolina’s Health Valley, Israel and India with Genome valley. At the forefront of innovation in bioinformatics related fields is the Silicon Valley. Through this article we aim to highlight some of San Francisco Bay Area’s leading trends in terms of genome sequencing and data sharing applications related to gene-therapy, drug design and personalized medicine.

The completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 opened the way to the sequencing era. Since then, many startups have developed NGS (Next Generation Sequencing). The most efficient startups in the field (DNAnexus, ImmuMetrix and Life technologies) are now able to provide low cost and fast sequencing. To give an idea, by the end of 2014 it is expected that anybody will have the opportunity to sequence his or her DNA in less than one day and for about $100.  DNA analyst and genomic services provider 23andMe has already delivered the possibility to basically decrypt parts of your genetic code from your iPhone! Many more companies like 23andMe are moving from the traditional genetic studies, to the power of crowd-sourced association study.

As like most breakthrough technologies, these new sequencing practices raise suspicions.  If sequencing is affordable for everybody, Should we do it? What are the benefits and the issues? What about privacy? The medical world already holds its answer, showing the benefits of early diagnostics and preventive treatments thanks to genome analysis.

Concerns aside, the main interest of widespread sequencing is information crossing between genetic data, clinical data and personal data. The availability of data sharing opens many fields to innovation, such as:

  • Disease understanding and treatment – Scientists are confident they could have been able to cure many diseases long ago (cancer included) if they had a free access to compare genome stored in databases worldwide. As a lead example, the introduction of genomics and epigenetics to psychiatry where disorders are to a large degree linked to genetics. Alex Urban, assistant professor at Stanford University says, “If we find the gene, we can understand the disease, design treatment and finally predict susceptibility. This pushes out the doubt around privacy concerns of sharing health data.”
  • Gene-therapy and drug design – Consists of modifying or reinforcing DNA in the human genetic code in order to fight diseases and disorders.  Many small drug manufacturing startups, like Numedii, are working on this form of therapy by combining biological sciences and engineering to create new kinds of vectors/neutral virus, improving the way genetic information is introduced into human cells. The perspective doors opened by such modifications can be considered has a Holy Grail of sorts for human kind.
  • Diagnostics – Some companies are already demonstrating the potential of data sharing and analytics to improve diagnostics. Thanks to strong data analytics capabilities combined with clinical studies, companies like Crescendo Bioscience have developed a biomarker test for Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). Now, they offer a free iPhone app for people living with RA, designed to empower patients to track their RA symptoms regularly and more effectively share how they’re doing with their rheumatologists. Another promising startup, Statlife, is going even further when it comes to prevention. Through a mobile app based on data analytics and complex algorithms, (patient age, environment, antecedent, etc.) analysts at Statlife can calculate the potential risk for individuals to develop certain diseases and use this as a way to initiate conversations and further investigations between the physicians and their patients.
  • E-care – Numerous applications of Big Data in Healthcare can be thought of as ‘e-care,’ or applications attempting to manage your health by improving your habits and recording your body response. These applications have already shown success helping doctors to better diagnose patients regarding to their habits.

As it already has in computing and connectivity in other fields, Big Data is expected to considerably accelerate innovation in healthcare, with immeasurable storage capacity and data sharing. To increase the impact, companies like Syapse are building database and are gathering genetic, personal and clinical data of individuals and, using the same commercial strategy as Facebook, are connecting to patients. This clearly unveiled the next big thing that will happen in health sphere…Introducing, Big Data!

As Ken Perez quoted from RnRMarketResearch.com:

The healthcare analytics market is estimated to be $3.7 billion in 2012 and will grow at a rate of 23.7% from 2012 to 2017 to reach $10.8 billion.”

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