Personalised medicine a long way down the road, but we’re getting there

27 Mar 2018

Centre: Brendan O’Callaghan, Sanofi’s SVP and global head of biologics platform. Image: Luke Maxwell

Personalised medicine promises to be the future of healthcare but, as Sanofi SVP Brendan O’Callaghan explains, we’re not quite there yet.

Just picture an idea: you go to your local GP and give a sample of blood that analyses your DNA and shows you living with (or being at risk of) a particular condition.

By knowing your genetic make-up, it is easier for the doctor to then write a prescription for medicine catered specifically to your needs, otherwise known as personalised medicine.

Future Human

While we have yet to see this make it into the common doctor’s office, the technology behind the concept is developing at a rapid pace, particularly with the advent of data science and artificial intelligence.

At the coalface of these developments is Brendan O’Callaghan, SVP and global head of biologics platform at Sanofi. He attended last month’s BioPharma Ambition event, which featured international policy leaders, renowned researchers and senior industry personnel.

Decades in the making

Speaking with, O’Callaghan said that the Irish-based company’s current research is looking to use the body’s own proteins to unlock medicinal properties inside us.

Almost all of the breakthroughs achieved so far can be traced back nearly 30 years ago, when biologists and data scientists teamed up to map the human genome for the first time.

Back then, it cost a total of $2.7bn but now, in almost the same amount of time it took to create one genome, we have more than 1m genomes mapped and it costs as little as $1,000 to generate.

A shrinking manufacturing footprint

However, O’Callaghan believes it will be some time before we see personalised medicine treatments becoming as common as a regular check-up.

“I think that’s a long way out, but that’s where the knowledge of biology is taking us, and the understanding of biological pathways and disease pathways is taking us,” he said.

For the pharma industry, he added that things are evolving rapidly on both the manufacturing and R&D sides and, most notably, the idea of miniaturisation.

“As our understanding of biology increases, the opportunity to express more concentrated proteins that have more of a therapeutic effect is emerging all of the time,” he said. “As a consequence of that, the footprint you need from a manufacturing point of view is shrinking.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic