The Pulse: Skinny Genes, Smart Drugs, Cancer 'Moonshot'

For interview requests, please contact Dr. Florence Comite at

China Scales Precision Medicine

Nearly one year after President Barack Obama announced the Precision Medicine Initiative, China is finalizing plans for their own: Genetic data will be collected from 4,000 volunteers — half of whom will receive whole-genome sequencing and “early warning” medical intervention. As is the case with the U.S initiative, the goal is to advance pharmacogenomics and the novel, personalized treatment and prevention of major diseases. The government will announce full details in the spring, but the news already has universities across the country scrambling to set up Precision Medicine “programs.” It will be interesting to see whether the curricular include real training – something we sorely lack here in the U.S.

Smart Pills Go Hollywood

Imagine if each pill in your medicine cabinet came with a grain-of-sand-sized sensor, synced to your doctor’s smartphone. Pop a pill? Doc gets a memo. Skip one? Noted. That’s the premise of smart pills – a new technology that aims to increase patient adherence and ensure effective clinical intervention. One FDA-approved drug-sensor called Proteus debuted this week in a California hospital for use among patients with uncontrolled and co-morbid hypertension. Questions of patient privacy have bio-ethicists shaking in their boots, but the benefit of adding a data-driven channel between the physician and patient is tremendous.

Skinny Genes Diet

Diets are like bridesmaid dresses. One size and style does not fit, nor flatter, all. In fact, research increasingly supports a personalized approach to nutrition, showing that each of us absorb and metabolize food differently based on our genetic makeup. Research has linked 38 genes with metabolism and nutrient absorption, including a genetic variation that causes energy from food to be stored as fat rather than burned for energy. Genetics is only one factor to consider when building a personalized diet, but it does acknowledge that weight loss is harder work for some than others, and presents a novel, precise approach to combatting obesity.

Shoot for The Moon

Vice President Joe Biden, whose son died of brain cancer last year, pledged Tuesday night to cure cancer once and for all with a “moonshot" approach that aims to break down “silos” and increase research resources. The word “moonshot” is misleading, making a daunting task seem like a light lift. After all, there will never be “a” cure to cancer, but many; curing the disease requires precision – care that’s tailored to each and every individual. We’ve made some strides, but we need a lot more research. That said, a united industry, and increased federal funding, could advance novel cancer therapies like liquid biopsies and 'suicide’ gene therapy that show promise of more precise diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. Now that I can be over-the-moon about.

What Theranos and 23andMe Teach Us

Theranos may yet be onto something big. It’s been operating in secrecy, and says it is moving forward as planned. Its goal to disrupt the Quest Diagnostics and Labcorp duopoly is a worthy one, as the companies often charge indiscriminate and unreasonable amounts for lab tests. But it does point to the complexity of healthcare disruption, and the need for seed-stage and venture investors to know how to separate companies with the ability to ride the next wave from those that will wipe out because their research and regulatory hurdles in the healthcare sector. Investors evaluating healthcare startups should ask four questions …Read my op-ed here: What 23andMe and Theranos Can Teach Us

For interview requests, please contact Dr. Florence Comite at

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