Distilling Complexity To Communicate The Future Of Precision Medicine

We are at the cusp of potential breakthroughs in personalized medicine, and there are a range of innovation areas where they are likely to take place. The Personalized Medicine World Conference, which took place in late January in Silicon Valley, identified six major themes that encapsulate this innovation:

  • Genetics-informed personalized immunotherapy and the development of personal immunotherapies in oncology based on emerging biomarker strategies
  • Non-invasive liquid biopsies for cancer patients. The analysis of tumor-derived nucleic acids and cells in the blood allows for individualized therapy selection and response-based optimization 
  • The microbiome as a potentially modifiable biomarker. There are at least as many bacterial cells as human cells in a human being; the human microbe interface is just beginning to be understood as a critical area of study
  • Data solutions in clinical genomics. This is perhaps the buzziest area, thanks to genome giants like Craig Venter. The body of knowledge that genomic sequencing is creating through the identification of genetic causes of not just diseases, but of what makes us who we are, is spectacular 
  • The role of practicing pathologists in personalized medicine. This is a fast-evolving area that is taking a new look at how to get the right test for an individual at a moment in time. Reframing the traditional role of the lab is both an opportunity and a barrier
  • Expansion of non-invasive prenatal testing. What’s currently widely accepted in high-risk settings has the potential to become more commonplace as the technology, costs, and benefits converge



Paradigm-changing potential

Each of these areas holds extraordinary potential for changing the paradigm of medicine—one that shifts a framework based on correlating individual symptoms to past treatment outcomes in the general population to prevention based on personally identifiable disease risk. 

While I’m not professionally qualified to delve into these areas with scientific rigor, as a healthcare marketer it is a fascinating area and a communications challenge to consider that very soon our providers, insurers, and patients (or should I say pre-patients) will need to understand these concepts and their commercial ramifications. 

Why simplification isn’t simple

In thinking about communicating complex and intricate science, I often begin by asking myself a few basic questions:

  • Is it more important to understand how the science of it works or its potential benefit?
  • Would it be more impactful to present the innovation or the story of the inventor?
  • What is the intent of current communications in terms of inspiring action?

The answers will vary based on the stage of product development and the level of informed awareness within the market. And while these questions may seem general, they become important to think through critically when communicating emerging healthcare technologies and solutions to an audience with a variable ability to comprehend their true value. 

In the desire to differentiate products and solutions with complex attributes, the communications model often tends to become simplistic in an effort to simplify, thereby losing the essence of a health solution’s true value. On the flip side, surprisingly often, less complex disease areas tend to get overcomplicated and dependent on the how, rather than the “so what,” due to a lack of real differentiation among the products. Simplification is a thoughtful process—one that requires critical thinking in distilling complexity, not by the exclusion of complexity but by its refinement. As we move forward, this ability will be needed among healthcare marketers more than ever before.

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