7 Questions: Jurgi Camblong on data-driven medicine

pharmaphorum spoke to Jurgi Camblong about his passion for improving healthcare and his views on how the genomics sector is revolutionising clinical diagnosis.

What’s exciting about your field at the moment?

There is a significant and noticeable momentum among policy makers, researchers and the private sector towards unlocking the true potential of clinical genomics. Recent notable initiatives include the Genomics England 100,000 Genomes Project in the UK or President Obama’s ‘Precision Medicine’ initiative in the US, which are both significant, research-based efforts to build understanding and to develop new ways of treating disease.

Recent financial activity in the genomics sector also indicates the financial worth associated with genetic technologies. For example, Roche recently paid over $1 billion for a majority stake in the clinical diagnosis company Foundation Medicine and a recent Goldman Sachs report indicated that genomic testing could soon become a routine part of clinical testing for a much greater number of patients. It’s clear that interest in the technology and the companies able to deliver it in the clinical setting has never been higher.

Finally, it is exciting to see an increasing level of patient and public awareness of the potential for clinical genomics to boost the use of personalised medicines and improve outcomes for a number of chronic conditions.

Your company is active in data-driven medicine, but what does that really mean?

Our mission is to help patients get a better diagnosis for chronic conditions or their risk of developing them. We help to simplify the deployment of ‘data-driven medicine’ – a more personalised, predictive, preventive and participatory approach to medicine – using clinical genomics and accurate algorithms to drive improvements in care.

We are delivering genetic medicine to front line clinical practice, working with hospitals and laboratories to provide the technology necessary to improve understanding of complex conditions and to help improve access to personalised therapies.

Currently we are working with over 50 European hospitals and laboratories and we expect to increase this number to 100 by the end of 2015. Up to 5,000 patients per month could be benefitting by then. Our platform is being used to better diagnose 23 different genetic disorders such as predispositions to cardiovascular conditions and cancer, with high accuracy in the interpretation of genetic data.

What is healthcare going to be like in 2035?

By 2035, with a rapidly ageing population affecting healthcare systems in many parts of the world, governments will have embraced a more personalised approach to diagnosis and treatment, improving outcomes and keeping more people healthier for longer. Our understanding of genomics will have progressed through close collaboration between major healthcare centres and companies in more advanced economies, with the benefits starting to be felt in other parts of the world too.

Data will underpin approaches to prevention, prediction and treatment of chronic illness. This will mean using the power of knowledge gained since the beginning of the genomic revolution to better plan resources and invest in expertise. Bioinformaticians and data analysts will become the drivers of medical advances, looking at population level data on chronic conditions to see where the burden of disease is likely to be greatest.

Finally, technological advances in cybersecurity and data privacy will lead to greater public acceptance and the normalisation of submitting and analysing personal information in order to deliver gains in outcomes. By 2035, understanding of cancer will lead to it being regarded as a chronic long term condition, certainly not a death sentence.

What or who provides you with inspiration?

The pioneers in the field of clinical genomics are my first source of inspiration; people like Alan Turing, the pioneering computer scientist and code breaker, or Lee Hood, the father of personalised medicine, continue to be models for my generation of bio-informaticians.

The future is a great source of inspiration too. The benefit of personalised medicines and their potential for delivering future improvements in outcomes for patients helps motivate me every day.

Conversely, what person, thing, or problem would you rather do without?

Silo thinking and distrust are two things we need less of. Laboratories and health institutions must understand the need to share patients’ information, respectful of data privacy, to deliver better outcomes and improvements in understanding.

The information gathered to help diagnosis today can help another patient tomorrow. That’s what our algorithms and approach to machine learning is all about: learning how to treat one patient to the benefit of another. Information sharing is central to the success of this.

Distrust continues to be a barrier too. Technological advances and certifications now ensure that DNA information is handled and stored in a safe manner. The ability to use this data effectively will only arise when fear of its misuse is diminished.

How do you switch off from work?

As an entrepreneur I tend to be ‘always on’. However, I try to play tennis or football to take a break. I also go back to the Basque Country, where I am from, relatively frequently to spend some time with my family and friends, but I do not have that chance as often as I would like.

What book would you recommend everyone should read?

I highly recommend ‘The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair’, a novel written by Joël Dicker, an author from Switzerland, where Sophia Genetics is based.

About the interviewee:

Jurgi Camblong is an entrepreneur active in the field of clinical genomics and data-driven medicine. He studied Biochemistry in Pau (France) before completing his master’s degree at a research lab in Bordeaux, France. His passion for molecular genetics led him to Geneva where he started his PhD in 2002.

In 2008 Dr Camblong moved to the University of Oxford and led his own post-doctorate research at the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology. He made major breakthroughs in gene silencing and transcriptional directionality, published in leading scientific journals.

Although highly successful in academia, Dr Camblong decided to set up in business, starting Gene Predictis, a Swiss-based start-up company, between 2010 and 2011 before founding Sophia Genetics.

Dr Camblong and the other two co-founders of Sophia Genetics (Pierre Hutter and Lars Steinmetz) founded the company on the principle of helping patients be better diagnosed and treated.

Since founding Sophia Genetics, Jurgi Camblong has managed three fundraising rounds to collectively raise around $18 million. There are now 36 employees.

Read another thought leader interview:

7 Questions: Bernadette Keefe on healthcare media