Precision Medicine – The next best sector to invest in for economic resurgence in the GCC

An opinion piece by Tara Smyth, Managing Director & Market Manager for MENA at JP Morgan Private Bank.

The UAE economy grew at 2.9 per cent year-on-year in 2019, however due to COVID, this has caused the UAE and all neighboring countries to encounter an economical decline. A study by Fitch Tech shows that the UAE is projected to witness a robust economic recovery with a growth rate of 4.1 per cent in 2021. With an increased appetite for investing in Healthcare and Technology, the economy in the region can expect to bounce back from there.

As the world anxiously awaits the COVID-19 vaccine—a one-size-fits-all solution to stop the pandemic is now sweeping the globe. On the horizon is a supremely customized approach to healthcare that promises to transform how we diagnose and treat diseases: Precision medicine.

Many believe that this is the future of healthcare and that it is fast approaching. Precision medicine aims to deliver the most effective treatment tailored to a specific patient at the most opportune time to achieve the best possible result. This medical model depends on marrying a deep understanding of each person with comprehensive knowledge of all treatment options that might work for that individual, including at the genetic, molecular, or cellular level.

It is thought that such tailored treatments could cure debilitating and/or deadly diseases with far less risk of the serious side effects often associated with more standardized treatments.

While up until this point, technology limitations have hindered progress in the field of precision medicine, new big data and artificial intelligence (AI) tools may now allow scientists to proceed faster than ever before. Data, and the ability to store, secure, process and interpret vast amounts of it in a way the human brain simply cannot, will be critical in this transformation of healthcare. This bodes well for companies that can provide and use the necessary technology.

Examining the precision medicine trend in healthcare

Precision medicine, over time, has the potential to bring targeted, life-saving treatments to countless individuals suffering from a wide range of previously incurable diseases, without destroying the quality of the lives it saves.  

Additionally, precision medicine is already being closely studied for its potential in oncology. Doctors may be able to use it to create targeted cancer treatments that attack specific cells within the body. As opposed to chemotherapy, precision oncology may be less likely to harm healthy human cells because it focuses only on specific tumor cells. A treatment capable of bypassing the harmful side effects of chemotherapy.

There is also some promise that precision medicine could also treat COVID-19. Researchers have found that a variety of characteristics such as age, previous conditions and some less obvious markers appear to be linked to the recovery time of the disease.

For example, scientists are currently exploring the link between the severity of COVID-19 symptoms and higher testosterone levels. Depending on findings, this could lead to the development of precision medicine able to treat COVID-19 infections by lowering testosterone in individuals with specific levels of the hormone.

That is just the beginning. The possibilities extend to conditions like genetic blindness, muscular dystrophy, diabetes, heart disease and more.

Applying precision medicine innovations to all healthcare solutions

For precision medicine to become a viable option for everyone, data is needed, lots of data, as well as the commitment of governments, healthcare agencies and regulators to provide a supportive framework. Fortunately, governments in the region are already acknowledging the importance in investing in healthcare. In Saudi Arabia for example, and as part of the Kingdom’s 2020 budget, the government allocated 16.4 per cent of its spending on the sector.

Investment impact of healthcare trends and innovations

Several types of companies may help drive the development of precision medicine. Data-driven medical research companies, particularly those with prowess in AI and machine learning, will lead the way in researching new precision medicines for patients. Just as financial firms can determine a consumer’s credit score based on almost every aspect of a person’s financial history, healthcare companies may soon be able to analyze a patient’s entire medical history to determine which treatment could be best for that unique individual.

Medical diagnostics and analysis companies could lead the way toward the development and implementation of precision health. Medical testing and analytics companies that focus on gene sequencing, specialized medical screening through DNA analysis, or molecular modification as remedies could all bring cutting-edge treatments to the healthcare industry. Companies in this category would not only need advanced medical technology, but also the capability to examine vast datasets of medical records and trials.

Innovations in big data, AI and medical science are leading us to a previously unimaginable frontier—where treatments for some of the most devastating diseases can be uniquely designed to match an individual patient’s personal profile and genetic makeup. Think of a world where tailored treatments, even for previously incurable diseases, can be delivered with potentially minimal side effects. From so many angles, that is a world worth investing in.