Quants collaborate on forecasting value of genomics in medicine


Genomics hasn't lived up to all the hype in medicine, and even some experts have begun to question the value of the field. Channeling Nate Silver, Harvard researchers took a data-driven approach used in forecasting the weather and outcomes of presidential elections to forecast the value of genomics research.

They believe that they have some solid predictions to justify the billions of dollars pumped into genomics, using so-called "Monte Carlo modeling" to evaluate how investments in the field could reduce the cost of adverse drug events. Bad side effects now cost the healthcare system around $80 billion a year, a number that they predicted could fall to less than $10 billion over 20 years with the aid of genomic studies of risk factors for adverse events.

Then plowing billions of dollars more in genomics must be a no-brainer, right? Not so fast, perhaps. The models are based on many assumptions, some of which hinge on genomes being responsible for a certain percentage of bad side effects. And their analysis hinged on genomic associations with side effects of 6 commonly used meds--including the blood thinner warfarin--and the popular class of statin anti-cholesterol drugs.

Who knows whether warfarin will be nearly as widely used in a few years given the advent of next-generation clot busters that reduce bleeding risks? Or, what if genomics isn't as important as we think with respect to risk of side effects? While forecasting the value of genomics precisely is tricky, the researchers from Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center have some models that seem vastly more scientific than anecdotes of the past.

"Genomics is so important and is so often on the minds of our patients, students and staff," stated Dr. Ramy Arnaout, a founding member of the Genomic Medicine Initiative at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), "that it seemed like a good idea to use modeling to get some hard numbers on where we're headed."

Arnaout and his colleagues published their findings in the journal Clinical Chemistry.

- here's the release

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