What is your prediction for healthcare in Canada in 2016?
Canada has a great opportunity to be one of the world’s leaders in implementing innovative approaches and cutting edge technologies, such as genomics, into the healthcare system. Having a single-payer system is key to coordinating the implementation of genomics into the healthcare system. Over the years, Canada has created a strong ecosystem of innovation and has built capacity in research and application of genomic technologies. Moreover, the dramatic decrease in the cost of DNA sequencing and genomic technologies is now making it possible to integrate genomic analysis across the continuum of the healthcare system in all areas; prevention, diagnosis, treatment and prognosis of disease. In particular, there are four areas where genomics has short-term potential: oncology, infectious diseases, rare diseases and pharmacogenomics. Canada is already investing in several large-scale projects in these areas and we are now starting to realize results, with measurable impact, of the integration of genomics in the healthcare system. In particular, genomic tools are being successfully used in the areas of cancer treatment, infectious diseases and rare diseases.
How do you see big data changing the healthcare industry?
The healthcare system is facing great opportunities with the advancement of cutting edge technologies such as genomics, imaging, portable devices, etc. These technologies are bringing new tools for diagnosis and treatment, but they are also creating new challenges in terms of data management. Just reading the full sequence of one complete human genome takes a minimum of 200 gigabytes of computer space. The 1000 genome project, where full sequences and annotations of 1000 volunteers are available, is taking more than 200 terabytes of space and this is just the beginning! We are now talking about sequencing 100,000 individuals in the UK and USA and we are developing several projects in Canada that are generating genome sequences in patients with cancer, rare diseases and infectious diseases. These exemplars or pilot projects are allowing us to combine large genomics datasets with clinical information in BC, Canada and across the world, in order to deliver diagnosis and potential treatment options for patients with cancer and rare diseases in unprecedented ways. The challenge now is to be able to scale this up so that big data and genomics can be used in a public health, reaching large population numbers. Healthcare records, doctors and healthcare systems in general will all need to adapt to be able to take full advantage of all this information in order to provide the greatest benefit for patients.
Is the Canadian healthcare system ready for personalized medicine and patient-centred care?
In Canada we have several initiatives in precision medicine. In particular, Genome Canada and Genome BC have invested in large-scale projects aimed at integrating genomics into the healthcare system in order to develop a more precise and personalized care for Canadian patients. Many of these projects are now starting to deliver results. In BC, we have several ongoing initiatives, like the Personalized Onco Genomics Project (POG), the Rapidomics project, and the Hepatitis C initiative, that are using genome sequencing to deliver personalized treatments to patients with cancer, to babies at the Neonatal Intensive Care Units and to patients with HIV and Hepatitis C infections respectively. However, to reap the full potential of these new technologies, a paradigm shift in culture and knowledge is required across the medical continuum, starting with the education of physicians through to nurses and pharmacists. Better coordination between these professionals is required to optimize the full impact of precision medicine and to allow the integration and implementation of genomics into the healthcare system. There are several key partners in this space including health authorities, the private sector, funding agencies, academics, and regulatory agencies, etc. The key to our success lies on our ability to work with these partners to ensure we realize a patient-centred healthcare system in Canada.
What are you most looking forward to at the 16th Annual Healthcare Summit?
I am looking forward to interacting with our key partners in the healthcare system in BC, and also in Canada, to explore how we can best integrate new technologies, sustainably, to optimize patient care. In particular, I am interested in discussing the potential of integrating and implementing genomics, and genomics associated technologies, into the healthcare system in Canada.