Perspectives on oncology personalised healthcare: Ruth March (transcript)

In the final run up to publication of our first round table video debate on advances in personalised healthcare, Paul Tunnah talks to Ruth March, AstraZeneca’s Head of Personalised Healthcare and Biomarkers, to hear what impact this area is having on how pharmaceutical companies conduct research and commercialisation.

This media accompanies the round table video debate ‘Oncology shaping the future of personalised healthcare’, sponsored by AstraZeneca.

Ahead of the round table video debate ‘Oncology shaping the future of personalised medicine’, pharmaphorum will be releasing individual video interviews with the four expert participants. Below is the transcript from the video discussion between Paul Tunnah and Ruth March , AstraZeneca’s lead in this space, where we discuss why personalised healthcare is good for pharma and patients, how it is changing business process and where the most exciting advances are being made.

(interview conducted July 2013)

Interview transcript:

PT: Why is personalised healthcare so important for the pharma industry?

RM: As a scientist, I’ve always been interested in the tiny differences between individuals – those little differences to our genes and our proteins that make us who we are. When I joined AstraZeneca I was fascinated by the idea that we could use those small differences and our scientific knowledge to tailor the best drug for the best patient. So when we select the right patients for the right drug, then the outcomes from clinical trials get better, we are able to see whether our drugs are more efficacious and safe, and that makes for a better clinical outcome, and that makes good business sense, so it’s a real win-win situation all round.

“When we select the right patients for the right drug, then the outcomes from clinical trials get better”

PT: What does personalised healthcare offer to patients?

RM: So for the patient, they can get a more predictable outcome from the drugs. Rather than them just coming to the doctor and not knowing whether that treatment will work for them, patients will get more of a prediction about whether the drug will work, which means they don’t have to come back time and time again to try one drug, and then try the next drug, then maybe they have another drug that could be efficacious but they have side effects. [With personalised healthcare] they can tell, ideally, the first time that that drug will work for them.

PT: How is personalised healthcare changing the drug development process?

RM: Even before the clinical trials start, we will be doing research to identify the best biomarker for that particular drug. When we start doing clinical trials in the patient population, then we will be able to use that biomarker to select patients. If we know what the biomarker is we can use a diagnostics test at that stage to pick patients onto the clinical trial. If we don’t know then we can be carrying out the research during the clinical trial.

PT: How does big pharma best collaborate with diagnostics companies?

RM: When we’ve looked at those relationships, we’ve really believed that the best model is to be able to partner with whichever diagnostic company has the technology and other capabilities that are right for the particular drug. So we tend to work with strategic partnerships with diagnostics companies, rather than investing in just one diagnostic company.

PT: How do people get involved in personalised healthcare research?

RM: I come from a background in genetics and immunology, looking at both the genes and the proteins that make people different. But different people come from different backgrounds. In my group I have people that came from a physics background [and] I have a colleague very high up in a personalised healthcare organisation who was originally a nurse. Because this is a new and cutting-edge area, I think people can take many different career paths. What is needed is an enthusiasm for the subject and then an ability to learn and to work within a group that is cutting-edge in personalised healthcare.

“In infectious disease, there are developments coming through in rapid diagnostics testing”

PT: What therapeutic areas are driving personalised healthcare?

RM: Oncology is probably the furthest ahead; then outside of oncology you have progression in the technology used in neuroscience imaging techniques. In infectious disease, there are developments coming through in rapid diagnostics testing – rather than waiting two or three days for the outcome of a culture test, patients will be able to be put on to a more effective therapy straight away.

PT: Will personalised healthcare be the standard approach in the future?

RM: We will be seeing personalised healthcare as a normal part of drug development, and even a normal part of clinical practice, so that every patient – when they go to see their doctor – already expects a number of tests to be carried out. These will include more sophisticated tests, so that they will be able to see, and the doctor will be able to prescribe, the drug that is most appropriate for them, maybe without the patient even being aware of it, but so their samples and their disease can be treated most appropriately.

Other links:

Oncology shaping the future of personalised healthcare media hub

Video of this interview

Perspectives on oncology personalised healthcare: Malcolm Ranson (transcript)


About the interviewee:

Ruth March is VP and Head of Personalised Healthcare & Biomarkers at AstraZeneca. This function includes over 100 experts in diagnostic and biomarker science. The function works with teams in all therapy areas and phases of development to select the right patients for treatment, increase success rates and deliver life-changing medicines to patients.

Ruth has more than ten years’ experience in the field of Personalised Healthcare. She has been instrumental in driving over 80% of AstraZeneca’s drug projects to adopt Personalised Healthcare approaches. Previous to this Ruth spent ten years in immunology and genetics research at the Universities of London, Oxford and Brunel.

Ruth has published extensively in the field of pharmacogenetics and Personalised Healthcare, has eight granted biomarker patents and is a member of several expert advisory boards.

To read more about Ruth and her thoughts on personalised medicine please visit:

AstraZeneca LabTalk – Ruth March

How can pharma take the lead on personalised healthcare?