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SAP jumps into precision medicine

Precision medicine has a powerful advocate in the person of President Obama.

Now a powerful multinational tech giant is also throwing its considerable financial and intellectual resources behind the movement to use genetics, genomics and big data to provide individualized healthcare.

SAP, the dominant enterprise software vendor, has made a number of moves in precision, or personalized, medicine over the last year that probably make the German-founded company the most visible non-native health IT player in the field.

SAP’s HANA database platform is underpinning the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s CancerLinQ project, a precision medicine-style effort to quickly derive clinical insights from millions of health records and clinical data.

In September 2015, after SAP CEO Bill McDermott lost an eye in a fall at his brother’s home, McDermott declared the company would plunge into healthcare.

Two months later, SAP released two software systems dedicated to healthcare, both built on HANA: Foundation for Health, a warehouse for clinical and data; and Medical Research Insights, a Web-based cognitive computing engine that compares patient data from many sources.

On April 26, SAP sponsored a forum with the Bloomberg Government unit of Bloomberg Finance L.P. in Washington, D.C. dedicated to personalized medicine and President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative.

During the symposium, Francis Collins, M.D. director of the National Institutes of Health, explained the initiative’s first major project: a $170 million undertaking to collect the health data and blood samples of 1 million volunteer study participants.

Also this week, SAP released, in conjunction with global forecasting company Oxford Economics, the results of a personalized medicine survey. The survey, Healthcare Gets Personal, shows what SAP calls “the next revolution in healthcare,” one that “promises breakthrough treatments and lower costs.”

SAP and Oxford Economics surveyed 120 health professionals working in personalized medicine and also did in-depth interviews with experts.

Among the top findings:

  • Diabetes, already the major illness targeted by precision or personalized medicine, with 45% of respondents reporting it as their main focus today, will grow in two years to be the primary focus of 63%.
  • Next was common cancers, with 38% using precision medicine now and 44% expecting to in two years.
  • Neurological diseases are targeted by only 33% of precision medicine professionals now. That figure is expected to jump to 58%.
  • Respondents also reported they expect major increases in the use of personalized medicine for cardiovascular diseases; aging; autoimmune diseases; rare cancers; and other rare diseases.
  • While personalized medicine is already having a measurable effect on patient outcomes, significant adjustments to healthcare organizations’ culture and governance are required. Organizations are still learning how to share new data with patients and are preparing for new government regulations.
  • Organizations are making substantial investments in big data and analytics. “Technology is at the heart of personalized medicine,” according to a release accompanying the survey results.
  • Business models for personalized medicine are not fully developed, but there is optimism about revenue growth and profitability over the next two years.

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