For Peter Keeling, the boss of medtech firm Diaceutics, the mission is simple: Make it easier for laboratories, doctors, diagnostic and pharmaceutical companies to work more closely together so that patients with cancer and other life-threatening diseases get the best chance of recovery.
It seems obvious to a layperson, but according to the founder of the Dundalk-based company, there has historically been a lack of that co-ordinated approach, meaning hundreds of thousands of patients are missing out on the specific drugs that could mean the difference between life and death.
Precision medicine is an emerging model that takes into consideration specific genetic, environmental, lifestyle, and historic data of an individual patient so that highly specialised treatment is then given to that patient, instead of generic catch-all treatments.
Diaceutics is working to bridge the gap between pharmaceutical companies, diagnostics, and laboratories so that they can work together for the benefit of that individual patient.
It was a slow process. Mr Keeling recalled how 12 years ago at a 3,000-delegate conference in Miami, he presented his vision to 50 people, only seven of whom were left in the room by the end. However, two pharma companies liked what they heard, and today 19 of the top 20 pharma giants in the world work with Diaceutics.
Mr Keeling said: “We all have friends and relatives who have or are patients — they’ve probably been subjected to a type of medicine that has been a little tested and then used to treat everyone broadly the same.
“That has benefited us over the years in the evolution of treatment but more recently, with a technology revolution going on, genetics, and other types of testing, we are really able now to find much better types of patients in the same disease. The pharmaceutical industry has been able to laser-focus treatments on those different types of disease.”
Breast cancer is a good example of how all stakeholders can work together, he said.
“Some 15 years ago, if a woman suffered from breast cancer, she would have been treated with the same type of cocktail of drugs, regardless.
“Those drugs were the best we had but they had a lot of different side effects.
“Over the subsequent years, we’ve been able to see that breast cancer isn’t really one disease — it’s a whole series of different types of diseases. Those have been given different labels, such as HER2 which 25% of women with breast cancer will have.
“The pharmaceutical industry can laser-focus on that one subset of 25% of patients. In doing so, they can demonstrate the high impact of that drug.
“The way to walk this forward is if we can replicate that with other diseases. When you can identify more narrowly the type of patients, you are able to have more impact with the treatment,” said Mr Keeling.
Diaceutics works with hundreds of laboratories across the world, gathering and analysing their patient testing data, also bringing pharma firms on board to access that data for the benefit of patients.
“In setting up Diaceutics, I thought if I could prove to the pharmaceutical industry that with more involvement in owning this diagnostic journey rather than ignoring it, it would revolutionise it,” said Mr Keeling.
“The best people to change a system are those with the greatest incentive to change that system.
“What is staggering is looking at some of the data coming out of the US and our estimate is that 50% of patients who could get access to these drugs are not getting it. The diagnostic journey is not working as it stands.
“Precision medicine is a win-win for the pharmaceutical industry because they get more patients, they get a higher return and we invest back in improving diagnostics,” he said.
Diaceutics is making the move into markets across the world, so it will be able to access data from hundreds of laboratories in all continents.
“Laboratories are a huge friend to precision medicine, between the doctor and the diagnostic companies.
“They are hugely motivated. I feel like we’re making a difference as opposed to just making a profit,” said Mr Keeling.
Some 156,000 cancer patients are missing out in the US and Europe every year due to testing that is inadequate, while pharma giants are missing out on approximately €15bn in revenue, he said.
“Medicine is going to become increasingly reliant on diagnostics in the future,” said Mr Keeling.
“In the next 48 months, some 300 new test-dependent drugs or indications will be brought to market. We, therefore, need to make sure that labs, pathologists, physicians, and pharmaceutical companies are perfectly aligned to prepare for this change and ensure patients are receiving the targeted drugs that have the potential to save their lives.”