Gathering genetic insights in India brings opportunities for precision medicine
February 12, 2019
Indian prayers
People of Indian heritage make up a tiny fraction of global genetic databases. Image CC0 via Pexels

India is a land of growth and industry, with the world’s sixth-largest economy… and 1.3 billion human genomes.

But although the subcontinent comprises around 20% of the world’s population, the DNA sequences of its people currently make up less than 1% of global genetic databases.

In 2009, a mere 4% of data in genomic databases originated from people with non-European ancestry. That figure has improved in recent years to nearly 20% but there’s still a long way to go to ensure that genomic datasets, which are increasingly used by biomedical researchers and pharmaceutical companies, are fully representative of human diversity.

Listen to this short podcast featuring Global Gene Corp’s CEO Sumit Jamuar, speaking with Dr Kat Arney about the company’s mission and the promise of genomic medicine in India.

As deaths from infectious diseases fall, particularly in the developing world, there has been a rise in chronic illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes, described by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a “slow-motion catastrophe.”

In search of more effective tests and treatments, the last few years have seen a growing interest in developing novel treatments that are tailored to an individual’s genetic makeup – an approach known as personalised or precision medicine.

The current global market for precision medicine is estimated at US$50.3 billion in 2018 and is forecast rise to US$86.7 billion by 2023. But unless the genetic databases used to develop these tools reflect different human populations, far too many people will not benefit from this coming revolution in healthcare.

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We want to bring the benefits of genomic medicine to everyone, wherever they live. image: CC0 via Unsplash

Currently, an estimated 90% of potential medicines entering clinical trials fail to demonstrate the necessary efficacy and safety, and never reach patients, representing an enormous waste of time, resources and lives. Many of these failures are due to incomplete understanding of the link between the biological target of a drug and human disease.

By contrast, medicines developed using genetic insights have a significantly higher ‘hit rate’ when moving into clinical trials.

Understanding more about the impact of genetic variations on the function of potential drugs – or identifying population-specific targets – could help to cut the cost of failure in the pharmaceutical industry’s development pathway. And purely from a business angle, more genomes sequenced mean more customers for novel treatments.

In the words of Global Gene Corp’s CEO, Sumit Jamuar, “Missing out on mapping worldwide genetic diversity is a big mistake.”

In March 2018, we announced a collaboration with the US-based Regeneron Genetics Centre  to create India’s largest sequencing programme, specifically aimed at generating genomic understanding of populations in the Indian sub-continent.

The sequencing data generated by the RGC will be paired with de-identified medical records from consenting patients to examine links between human genetic variations and disease in these populations.

Using our proprietary analysis algorithms, we can analyse these data to gain vital insights to inform the development and delivery of precision medicine, not only for people living in India but for the millions of people with Indian heritage living around the world today.

The Indian government is enthusiastic about the potential benefits of this approach, which fits neatly with the country’s commitment to Healthcare for All, and the belief that investing in genomic science and technology will create infrastructure, jobs and opportunity for the future.

We believe that tailoring healthcare solutions for everyone on the planet has the potential to save lives on a grand scale. With the power and possibility of genomics and precision medicine, you can change the health outcome for any individual and allow them to have not just a longer but a better quality of life. All that is lacking is the genomic data to realise that promise, and that’s what we’ve set out to achieve.

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