Personalised medicine

Anthony Rowbottom explores ‘the new modern era of medicine’ – ‘individual & personalised medicine’.

If, like me, you watched BBC2’s Horizon programme in August this year in the UK you might have witnessed the University Professor of Physics Larry Smarr show you samples of his frozen faeces.

…no, it wasn’t a re-run of an episode of “You are what you Eat” but a truly fascinating insight into where modern healthcare is headed. The battle against disease has moved from the doctor’s surgery into our very own hands. Medicine, and the practice thereof, is increasingly becoming an individual’s responsibility. The new modern era of medicine is just around the corner: I call it ‘individual & personalised medicine’ or IPM.

“The new modern era of medicine is just around the corner: I call it ‘individual & personalised medicine’ or IPM.”


From Watson & Crick to Eric Topol

Ever since the discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953, discussions around the idea of targeting specific genes to affect changes in the way our body reacts to disease, genetic abnormalities or environmental factors has abounded. Not until the advent of the 1990’s was this a reality however, where research using biological ‘banks’ of specimens brought with it developments in molecular biology, genetic testing and molecular medicine.

Current medicine has learnt a lot since then with the ability to now stratify disease status’, selecting the correct treatments and customising doses to tailor to an individual patient’s needs. We’ve come a long way since drilling holes in our skulls to cure headaches.

DNA sequencing technology has also blossomed recently – what used to take a year, now takes a matter of hours thanks to improved computing processing power. Drugs such as Herceptin rely on these targeting mechanisms to prove their efficacy. Soon, every drug will most likely have to prove efficacy on a personal level. But I digress…back to IPM.

Advocates of IPM such as Eric Topol, who prescribes’ Smartphone Apps to patients in order for them to measure their conditions themselves, described current medicine as ‘still being in the stone age’. A now infamous story explains how Dr Topol, a world famous Cardiologist, uses a small wireless cardio echogram to save a man’s life on a plane. The point of the story? Carrying personal health devices saves lives – in this case in an emergency situation. How many other Cardiologists or physicians in general would have been able to do the same?

“I like control” – Michael Jordan, ex-NBA Basketball player

Whilst we can’t all be multi-million dollar earning international superstar athletes like Mike (can I call him that?), he makes a good point – human beings like being in control of their lives, generally. Having control of your own health is something new and unfamiliar, it’s true but we’re seeing a growing trend in monitoring everything we do, similar to but not as extreme as Professor Smarr.


“Soon, every drug will most likely have to prove efficacy on a personal level.”

Nike and other sports brands have wholeheartedly jumped on board with the idea of self-monitoring. Indeed, a whole host of medical Apps in the US and globally have exploded onto the market promising better sleep or improved fitness. In fact, even Pharmaceutical companies are creating health applications to better monitor disease or track nutrition: GSK’s Oncology Cancer Trials app or Sanofi’s portfolio of successful apps are gaining in popularity. Sanofi in fact, are the only company to achieve 1+million downloads across its Apps in the pharma world to date.

Do we think this is going to be a future trend? NO – it’s already happening, people / patients are already engaged with these technologies and are using them daily. Not just athletes or fitness freaks either; they’re being used by diabetes patients to tell them when to take their insulin or by chronic kidney disease patients to measure their magnesium or sodium intake.

Pharmaceutical companies are also taking advantage of IPM outside of merely creating health apps. Never before have pharmaceutical companies been so close to the end users of their products. The future of personalised medicine won’t just be physicians getting to grips with newer drugs, trying to understand which sub-patients to use them in. The future will be IPM – pharmaceutical companies forming relationships (of a type) with patients and physicians alike: improving compliance and education by engaging both sets of stakeholders with technology to enable them to help themselves.



About the author:

Anthony Rowbottom is an Associate Director at Branding Science, a market research led consultancy. With over 10 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry, Anthony has witnessed many changes – experienced how the advent of Social Media and ‘Digital’ has slowly but surely transformed healthcare.

You can contact Anthony via Branding Science’s Twitter (@BrandingScience) or

What does the future of IPM look like?