In the early days of personalized genomic medicine, skeptics wondered how tailored medical care could be profitable. Who would develop a drug for just one or a few people?
Turns out they were looking in the wrong direction. The answer lies in genetic testing more than drug development. A detailed report in today’s New York Times examines how the promise of personalized or precision medicine is being “tainted” by hype. “Across the industry,” they write,
investors are pumping tens of millions of dollars into clinical laboratories that are developing and selling the genetic tests. President Obama recentlycalled on Congress to spend $215 million next year on personalized medicine, calling it “one of the greatest opportunities for new medical breakthroughs that we have ever seen.” A major use of the federal funds would be to create a research group of a million volunteers that would provide scientists with an enormous collection of data.
Doctors and their patients, finding it hard to resist the promise, are being swept up in the excitement. The number of tests has almost doubled in the last few years, creating a $6 billion industry.
While acknowledging that some genetic tests are proving highly valuable–particularly in diagnosing different forms of cancer, which can respond highly specifically to certain drugs depending on the mutation–they note that many genetic tests are doing more to fatten corporate wallets than they are to improve patient care. The tests often run to $1000 or more.
WIth so much at stake, federal regulators are growing concerned about fraud. Turns out some doctors are ordering and charging for tests that people don’t need!
An internal chart reviewed by The New York Times suggests the company was not shy about pointing out that doctors could amass a substantial income by participating. If a doctor enrolled five patients per day and took 110 swabs per month, that physician could earn as much as $125,400 in compensation from the study over a year.
Shock and awe!