Health is wealth. What does that actually mean? There are lots of interpretations of this phrase and it is the topic I’ll be addressing when I step onto the virtual global stage at Expo 2022 Dubai. Healthcare and science have never been more in front of the public mind as they have been in the past two years. Society has a greater understanding of the link between science and disease and the benefits to the patients, the NHS and the wider economy of diagnosing and treating diseases more effectively.

But what if it could be improved even further?  Faster disease diagnosis, with effective treatment options tailored specifically to each patient, achieving better outcomes for them. In fact, offering wide-ranging benefits to society as a whole.

This is how we become a healthier and wealthier nation. The solution lies in precision medicine – which enables clinicians to match medical treatments to each individual patient – and now is the time to accelerate the implementation of this innovative approach to healthcare.  

Put simply, this involves developing treatments that are targeted to a person’s genetic makeup, rather than generic to the whole population. Because people respond differently to medication depending on their genes, using a tailored approach will lead to patients getting more effective treatments more quickly, rather than trying out lots of medicines before they get the right one for them. And it’s not just the benefits this brings to citizens, this clearly has the potential to save the NHS substantial sums of money.  

Implementation of precision medicine will help the NHS to generate significant savings at a time when it is struggling to recover from a global pandemic and to meet increasing demand from an ageing population. The global Precision Medicine market is forecast to grow from $43bn in 2016 to $134bn by 2025, representing an opportunity for Scotland to benefit from increased productivity, jobs and economic growth, according to analysis by Frost & Sullivan.  Furthermore, more effective targeted treatments and better prevention of disease will create a healthier and more productive workforce.

One size definitely does not fit all when it comes to medicine. Some drugs work for a significant proportion of the population, but other treatments don’t work at all for many patients or cause unwanted side effects – a drug that is effective for one person could be ineffective or toxic to another.

Current challenges faced by many countries is the increasing numbers of patients
being diagnosed with liver disease. This is an area that Precision Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre (PMS-IC) identified as an area of unmet need globally – especially Fatty Liver Disease which affects 20-30% of the population worldwide, with over 25% of the Scottish population believed to be affected. Death rates from chronic liver disease in Scotland are 70% higher than the UK average and 60% higher than 30 years ago. Liver disease affects people of working age with an estimated £7.3bn per year in lost productivity (UK).

We have developed a Data Commons called SteatoSITE which holds annotated and curated data allowing researchers from both academia and industry to utilise this resource to look for potential diagnostic biomarkers, identify possible treatment options and contribute to the development of a clinical decision support tool using AI.  

This is just one of a number of diseases we are working on at the PMS-IC. Others include ovarian cancer, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and we are looking both in terms of prevention and developing new treatments and understanding the disease. Data is key to this and Scotland is well placed to take advantage of the health information infrastructure we have built. It is one of the best countries in the world in terms of having well-mapped patient data.  

Coupled with world-renowned universities and academics, and industry and clinical innovators, the life sciences sector in Scotland is thriving and PMS-IC is driving even greater collaboration to deliver new discoveries in precision medicine. We are committed to ensuring that the right treatment gets to the right person at the right time.  And that for me delivers both health and wealth. 

Marian McNeill will be speaking at Health & Care Transformation on Wednesday, March 16 at the Technology & Innovation Centre at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow.