Advancing Precision Medicine in Drug Development


Raffaella Faggionio

The pursuit of science got a momentous endorsement last year when President Obama announced the creation of the Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) in January 2015. For those of us who have been at the forefront of precision medicine, this move was indeed revolutionary.

While precision medicine is not new, the newly increased attention and allocation of resources is putting it at front and center of one of our most urgent healthcare issues. That is: addressing the challenges of disease prevention and treatment that account for individual differences in genes, environments and lifestyles.

Precision timing

Today, we’re hosting the inaugural California Translational Science Forum at the Computer History Museum, down the road from our California R&D site focused on translational sciences and precision medicine. We’ll be talking specifically about precision medicine and how recent advances in technologies and bioinformatics are transforming our understanding of diseases, design diagnostics and target therapeutics. The potential to convert these vast amounts of genetic, phenotypic, clinical and epidemiological data into useful insights is among the most powerful tools we have and is a key focus area for us.

Currently, we’ve advanced our technologies to the point at which we’re generating unprecedented amounts of data. This puts us at an important inflection point in the precision medicine journey, shifting us from data generation and description to integration within a knowledge network. This is what will help us to improve our understanding and treatment of diseases.

Building a knowledge network

What’s particularly exciting about this forum is that we’re bringing together key Bay Area leaders in science from academia, industry, government and funding organizations—each of us here to share and talk about innovative approaches to precision medicine and to build our own knowledge network. This includes highlighting new biomarker discoveries and quantitative methodologies at the cellular and systems levels, and their applications in pathology, pharmacology and immunology as they relate to drug development.

More precisely, we’ve been focusing our efforts for more than a decade on four areas that include:

  • Developing therapies for specific molecular targets
  • Delivering the most appropriate therapy to patients based on clinical and molecular features of disease through biomarker strategies to identify the right patients
  • Designing innovative trials to assess the clinical utility of predictive biomarkers
  • Analyzing big data sets to inform clinical decisions

Right track, right drugs, right patients

Another area that is crucial to precision medicine is diagnostics—we put as much value on this as we do on drug discovery. This is why we partner with the best diagnostic companies and 80 percent of our portfolio has a precision medicine approach.

Everything we’re doing crosses our core therapeutic areas, and we’ve demonstrated significant advances, most particularly in oncology and debilitating and life threatening diseases such as asthma and lupus.

There’s still a lot to do; as an industry, we’ve only begun to scratch the proverbial surface of precision medicine. Moving forward, we’ll set our energies on forums like the one today that allow for the successful sharing and collaboration of academia, industry and government—continuing to advance the field, putting us on the right track toward developing the right drugs and identifying the right patients. Working together through partnerships and collaborations will help gain better insights into the biological, environmental and behavioral influences on these diseases.