The Guest Blog

Guest blog post by Professor Stephen Holgate, Science Council Chair for the European Respiratory Society; and Professor Bruno Crestani, Conferences and Seminars Director for the European Respiratory Society.

If you are ill, imagine that you could visit a doctor who can deliver an efficient, targeted, personalised treatment programme that is adjusted to your body and your daily life. This dream is now becoming a distinct reality.


The current “one-size-fits-all” approach to healthcare, where there are standard treatments for single conditions, means that many patients take medication that does not improve their symptoms nor influence their disease. This situation results in huge costs, personally for patients and economically for healthcare systems. New developments in information and communication technology could be about to change this.


Known as ‘systems medicine’, this emerging field is harnessing the use of new technologies to gather big data sets on many patients in different disease areas. Systems medicine involves the analysis of data at every level (cellular, organ-level, whole organisms, environmental factors). This allows researchers to identify all of the components that play a role in a disease, with the ultimate aim of understanding the different sub-types of diseases and being able to better target therapies and treatments.


Developments in this area are rapid. We are seeing new tools to help researchers, and eventually clinicians, understand how to identify biomarkers for different diseases. A new AsthmaMap was recently presented at the European Respiratory Society’s (ERS) Lung Science Conference. This new tool, which was developed as part of an EU-funded Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) project (U-BIOPRED), adds to similar projects already in existence in other disease areas, for example the Parkinson’s disease map and the Atlas of Cancer Signalling Networks.


Advances such as these can facilitate and promote personalised medicine, improving the treatment process and reducing the burden of chronic diseases. However, to ensure we build on these advances and direct these changes in the right way, we need to develop a holistic, collaborative and multi-stakeholder approach, without which, real advancements in respiratory drug development will remain severely challenged.


Although these advances are happening, and some Member States have already put personalised healthcare into practice, there are several issues that are not yet resolved that the European Commission must address. This includes technology, education, privacy and data, and the barriers of costs and health inequalities. The challenge now is how we can unify the advances being made by different research groups in different disease areas to benefit healthcare systems across Europe.


The European Commission has taken positives steps by exploring ways of improving collaboration in the funding of personalised medicine research in Europe, including discussions with EU Members States about setting up joint collaborations in this field. More effective communication at the EU level could also be crucial if we want to effectively put personalised medicine into practice across Europe.


In an era where biomedical research is increasingly moving from what previously was a mono-disciplinary area, towards a networked systems approach that requires cross-border and cross-disciplinary efforts and investments, ERS urges the European Commission to do more to link up the successes in basic science championed by the European Research Council and by the Science Panel for Health at its recent summit in Brussels to the new ideas for establishing a European Innovation Council.


We believe that European translational and clinical research, i.e. research from the bench to bedside that clearly will bring innovation for citizens, needs to be taken into account for any plans for a European Innovation Council. Policymakers should perceive personalised medicine as a way of effectively reducing healthcare spending through enhanced patient care that effectively treats a disease and its symptoms in each individual.

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