Genomics-based diagnostics is now getting accepted as an effective tool for doctors in their routine clinical practice and powerful screening tests for high-burden diseases, shares Hiranjith G H, Director, Corporate Planning and Marketing & Communications, MedGenome with Elets News Network (ENN)
How far has MedGenome succeeded in normalising the concept of genomics-based diagnostics and research to deliver enhanced healthcare compared to other traditional approaches in the Indian market? Please explain in detail.
MedGenome has been successful in spreading the relevance of genomics in clinical practice for the last few years. We have been engaging the medical fraternity, thought leaders, academic institutes, research centres, hospitals and policymakers at multiple levels and doctors now see how genomics based diagnostics can prove to be an effective tool in their routine clinical practice. In line with this is the fact that MedGenome currently works with more than 800 doctors and 500 hospitals across the country.
Our medical education programmes, symposiums and conference participation have allowed us to create awareness and educate the key gatekeepers in the healthcare system. Genomics-based diagnostics is expected to support the clinicians in better diagnosis, treatment, and management of chronic and acute diseases through targeted approaches. They are also getting accepted as powerful screening tests for high-burden diseases, e.g. the non-invasive prenatal screening that MedGenome offers in India exclusively.
Our genomic centres have been actively involved in creating an environment for genetic testing, as well as to engage genomics based research.
Last year the well-known geneticist and the principal leader of Human Genome Project Prof Eric S. Lander had cautioned against the hype around genomic research despite being promising? Please comment.
Any new breakthrough discovery in science is bound to create attention and Human Genome Project is no different. The fact of the matter is that it aroused lot of public interest and many believed that the course of healthcare would radically change in a very short frame of time. However, genomics based research is complicated and will take time to develop insights that are applicable in clinical practice. Access to patients with rich archived data, and availability of baseline data,advanced interpretation capabilities and scientific know-how to convert the genomics insights into a successful drug discovery and research programme is not a small task. But, we have been successful in some attempts and many more attempts are ongoing.
So, it is clear that the journey is not easy, but can provide promising results as eventual outcomes.
Which new segments and diseases are being targeted through genomics-based diagnostics and research in the Indian healthcare?
It is estimated that India’s disease burden of diabetes and cardiovascular disease is bound to increase by 48million and 69 million respectively by 2017. The cancer burden in the country is on the rise, so we can expect genetic markers to play a vital role in selecting the right drug for the right patient. Apart from oncology, metabolic diseases and cardiovascular diseases, genetics can play a major role in providing targeted drug choices for inherited disorders and rare disorders. With a high birth rate of 26 million in a year and approximately 5 per cent high-risk pregnancies, screening for chromosomal disorders in the paediatric population is also an area where genetics can play an impactful role.
In order to spread awareness about genomics study and assist government in developing solutions against inherited diseases, do you have any partnerships with institutions, such as the National Institute of Biomedical Genomics (NIBMG), CSIR-Institute of Genomics & Integrative Biology (IGIB), etc.? Please provide details.
Yes, we have collaborations with both government and private institutions to run research programmes in the key disease areas. In its effort to address the genetic problems prevailing in the Indian subcontinent, MedGenome has partnered with GenomeAsia 100K, a consortium aimed at sequencing 100,000 Asian genomes. The objective is to gain an understanding of the underlying population geno type in this region and thereby enable drug discovery and research to combat the diseases of high unmet need.
|MedGenome – Key Achievements|
In 2015, MedGenome announced $20 million Series B investment from Sequoia Capital. What kind of scaling and enhancement measures were undertaken post this investment? Do you have more such investments in the pipeline?
MedGenome has increased its current laboratory capacity to be the largest throughput next-generation sequencing (NGS) lab in the region. We have spread pan-India with a team size of more than 35 focusing on key disease areas. Our diagnostics test menu has more than tripled in the last 1 year, in line with the demands from our customers. Across oncology, neurology, ophthalmology, metabolic diseases, rare disease and paediatric disorders among others, MedGenome has forayed into expanding its offerings to customer bases in Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, where consanguinity levels are high and hence the burden of genetic disorders.
We have also launched various genomics solutions in cancer immuno therapy in the United States (US) in the past year, catering to the pharmaceutical and biotech industry. We also have a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA)/ College of American Pathology(CAP) certified lab in the US now, which will offer NGS services to our research customers.
|Genomics-Based Diagnostics – Key Benefits|
With gene sequencing machines becoming more affordable and portable, do you think gene sequencing will soon move from government and high-end labs to regular medical centres in the corner?
Yes, with the cost of sequencing machines, as well as deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) sequencing, reducing drastically in the past decade, sequencing can become a norm in clinical practice. However, it still needs to be seen that how many of them would want to invest in sequencing machines, since the analysis part is still very complex. The analysis will help in interpreting the genomic data for useful insights. This will require skilled bioinformatics capabilities, which will need to be developed over a period of time, which is what MedGenome has done so far. However, very clearly, the application of genomics in the clinical practice is going to be very impactful.
Do you intend to target tier-I and tier-II cities where multi-specialty hospitals are spreading their reach?
Yes, we have a network of more than 500 hospitals across the country. Our team spans across all the regions and interact with the doctors in tier-I and tier-II cities supported by our pan- India logistics network.