Precision medicine focuses on the customisation of healthcare, providing medical treatments, practices, products and decisions tailored to the individual. Through the use of genetic information, diagnostic testing and medical records – as well as environmental and lifestyle factors – healthcare professionals determine the most suitable treatment for each patient.
This is in stark contrast to the traditional blanket approach, which bears little consideration for the inevitable variances between individuals and their daily lives.
Although still a relatively new concept, precision medicine has existed for many years. A classic example can be found in the matching of blood types prior to a transfusion in order to minimise the risk of complication. But despite its many potential applications, precision medicine has largely been confined to the field of oncology – until now.
The New Economy spoke to Mark Punyanitya, co-founder and CEO of PhenoMx, a healthcare technology start-up enhancing the traditional physical exam with its medical imaging platform, to learn more about the company’s approach and what the future holds for precision medicine.
How is healthcare evolving?
‘Next generation healthcare’ is rapidly becoming a practical reality, progressing from a physician-centric check-up to a patient-focused examination. Take Lab100 at Mount Sinai, for example: during the course of a 30-minute examination, one can progress through a series of quantitative tests that provide immediate results and actionable outcomes, all of which are shown on a gigantic display wall.
Medical imaging can be used as a biomarker for numerous diseases, allowing for early detection and treatment
This is a major step forward from traditional healthcare, in which a physician relies on the patient’s verbal account of their conditions and symptoms before ordering various tests to be conducted at a later date.
Advancements in remote monitoring and sensor technology have also allowed for the gathering of real-world data, enabling healthcare professionals to assess situations and trends that are seldom present or recreated during a visit to the doctor or a laboratory procedure. This means social determinants of health can be taken into account when a patient’s condition or disease is being characterised.
Despite all of these technological advances, the typical health examination still boils down to the simplest possible test or battery of tests. What’s more, a check-up is usually the only opportunity for traditional health practitioners to collect data and samples, making the information far from precise.
And while a cheek swab can be used to measure genomics, palpating can be used for a physical exam and blood can be used for circulating biomarkers, there are no simple measures for tracking vital organs and tissues on a regular basis. This is where precision medicine comes in.
What role does medical imaging play in precision medicine?
Medical imaging is a crucial tool for diagnosis, as well as for understanding the anatomy and many functions of the human body. Recent advancements, which include new devices and methods, have enabled medical imaging to be used as a biomarker for numerous diseases, allowing for early detection and treatment.
Imaging is also used to track a patient’s response to the treatment they are receiving, which can then be altered in order to deliver the best results. As medical imaging is an inherently individualised solution, it serves as a key tool for actualising precision medicine.
Can you tell us more about the technology behind PhenoMx’s personalised digital physical examination?
We offer a platform-as-a-service solution based on the MRI infrastructure, removing the need for users to install additional hardware or software. This helps to improve accuracy, precision and standardisation across the industry by giving everyone access to the latest imaging technology – even those using legacy scanners. We chose MRI because it’s non-invasive and avoids the use of ionizing radiation, without requiring needles or any contrast agents.
Though our core expertise lies in medical imaging, we recognise that imaging is not the answer to everything, so we are very collaborative and like to function as a solution integrator, bringing on other partners to carry out things like genomics, circulating biomarkers or cognitive and functional testing. Our imaging focus stretches across the supply chain, so we are also working with academic and industry collaborators to develop scanner hardware and software, as well as AI-enabled image post-processing.
Further, we have recently started working with S3 Group and the Chinese Academy of Sciences to deliver phenotyping imaging solutions for healthcare projects in China. Phenotyping studies the observable characteristics that result from the expression of genes when they interact with different environments.
As part of this collaboration, we use quantitative algorithms to process medical images and deliver actionable reports on a range of measurements, including: total body composition (fat and muscle); cardiac structure, function and scar tissue; brain and spine regions; joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles; reproductive organ health; virtual organ/tissue biopsies; and much more.
These can all be used towards early screening, as well as to predict the patient’s risk of metabolic disease, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis, fatty liver disease and sarcopenia, among others.
Advanced MRI systems are usually required to achieve high-level imaging. Does this impact the cost of your technology?
We are actually bringing down the individual price of our imaging technology by enabling shorter and faster scans, as well as leveraging cost drivers in the market to our advantage.
We are about to launch our personalised digital physical examination as a commercial package, and have been using the individual modules for clinical trials across a wide-ranging user base. So far, the response has been very positive, while requests for new modules have been frequent.
What are PhenoMx’s long-term plans?
PhenoMx is a software business first and foremost, so we aim to further develop our solution in the precision medicine market, increasing demand and aiding adoption. Since our principal offering is a software platform, we are confident the company will expand organically.
Having already established ourselves as an end provider of medical image analysis, we are looking to launch into the lower-cost hardware side of the market to increase the distribution of our technology and expand the entry points into our platform.
The goal is to provide a platform and service that improves the health of the global population. In fact, our grandest vision is to have portable MRI scanners installed in smaller end-user facilities, corporate headquarters and health centres, as well as in developing nations and remote locations, from deserts and jungles to mountain ranges. Put simply, we want to provide a health tool that services everyone, not just high-net-worth individuals.