Feds invest $67.5M into 'personalized medicine'
Published Tuesday, January 31, 2012 10:18PM EST
The federal government announced Tuesday it is investing $67.5 million into a "personalized medicine" health care strategy that will factor in a patient's genetics and the specific character of their illness before customizing a treatment plan.
The hope is that health care in Canada will evolve from one-size-fits-all to "a system of predictive, preventive, and precision care," said a statement from Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq.
Aglukkaq told CTV News Channel the federal government hopes to see results in roughly three or four years.
"A one-size-fits-all treatment program really does not work and so as an individual Canadian citizen if I want the best treatment, understanding my genetic makeup will help me as a patient in terms of getting the right kind of care the first time around," she said.
Personalized medicine could also lead to improved quality of life for patients and their families, as well as cost savings across the health-care system, she said.
Dr. Lillian Siu, an oncologist at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, said personalized medicine has the potential to allow doctors to eliminate painful, toxic treatments that may not work on a specific patient due to their genetic makeup or the type of condition they have.
"It's really allowing us to find out information and characteristics of a person and his or her disease and allowing us to find the right treatment to give it back to the patient at the right time," she told CTV News Channel.
Roy Romanow, the former Saskatchewan premier and former Royal Commissioner on health care, told CTV's National Affairs the personalized medicine project is "worthwhile" and financially manageable.
But in order for it to succeed, it needs total co-operation from all provincial governments and strong leadership from Ottawa, he said Tuesday.
"It's going to take a lot of hard work, some compromising on the part of the provinces and the prime minister," Romanow said, adding that research and implementation of personalized medicine is already happening on some regional levels in Canada.
Personalized medicine looks at the specifics of a patient's illness, their background and environment before a treatment plan is implemented. It can lead to more effective and efficient treatment, and prevent unnecessary suffering due to adverse drug reactions.
Under a personalized medicine approach, for example, cancer patients would be screened to identify those for whom chemotherapy would be ineffective.
"In addition to saving on the costs of expensive drug treatments, this personalized treatment would prevent a great deal of suffering, while identifying and initiating earlier treatments that would be more effective," stated the release.
It noted that oncology, cardiovascular disease, psychiatric disorders, diabetes, obesity, and Alzheimer's are some of the areas where a personalized medicine approach is expected to be particularly helpful.
The funding is to be split up as follows:
Genome Canada: $40 million
Canadian Institute of Health Research: $22.5 million
Cancer Stem Cell Consortium: $5 million
However, the funds will be handed out only when the organizations have secured matching funding from another source.
The Canadian health-care system is complicated and can be difficult for patients to navigate and understand, Romanow said. He believes the federal government should be taking on some "immediate projects" first to relieve the burden on patients.
One of those projects could be a national catastrophic drug coverage program, in which a patient in need pays the first $1,500 of his or her prescription drug cost and the government subsidizes the rest, Romanow said.
Prescription drugs have become the second-highest expenditure in the Canadian health-care system, right behind hospitals, he said.