Expert: COVID-19 demonstrates need for individualized medicine

The promise of truly personalized medicine has been on the horizon for decades.

“When we got to the genome sequencing era at the turn of the century it became apparent that each of us are unique, even identical twins,” explained Dr. Eric Topol, executive vice president and professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Resarch at UCSD. “And then we started to realize that it’s not just at the genomic level but also every level.”

Individualized medicine uses a patient’s specific genomic blueprint to determine their specific risks of certain diseases and prescribe therapies.

“Everyone of us has such extraordinarily unique features that we shouldn’t just treat people all the same or screen people all the same. Medicine can certainly be a lot more accurate,” said Dr. Topol. But the potential has yet to be realized. “We’re just at the earliest stage of that, unfortunately.”

Dr. Topol says the unpredictability of COVID-19 demonstrates the need for individualized medicine. The course of the disease can vary wildly from one patient to the next, even if their risk factors appear to be similar.
That variety of response has been one of the major challenges of fighting the pandemic.

“Some people can get the infection and never have symptoms that they know about, and others can go on and be in the ICU or a fatal event.”

Genomic studies are currently investigating whether a specific gene may be a risk factor for serious cases of COVID-19. Several other studies have suggested that a specific immune response could be the cause of severe cases of the disease.

Better understanding those genomic abnormalities could unlock the key to predicting how people will respond to the virus and develop personalized therapies.