Q&A: Brad Perkins on leapfrogging to personalized medicine

A hospital in Vietnam. Photo by: CDC / CC BY

Across the world, health care systems are feeling the cost of caring for the elderly. Chronic disease is straining rich and poor countries’ health systems alike. “Right now the most daunting and expensive human health program that increasingly the entire globe is facing is age-related chronic diseases,” Dr. Brad Perkins recently told the Aspen Ideas Forum in Abu Dhabi.

Enter genomics, a science that Perkins believes has the potential to reduce those costs by five to six fold. Perkins is chief medical officer at Human Longevity, Inc., a company that is working to link genomic mapping to clinical data. As he and fellow scientists work to hack the software of life, as he puts it, they expect to be able to provide far more specific treatments and recommendations for individual patients.

For now, that still sounds like a moonshot for even the wealthiest health care systems. But Perkins argues that developing countries could in fact be better placed to take advantage than developed ones. Instead of investing heavily on costly tertiary care for the ailing population, emerging economies could use genomics to personalize prevention.

Public health actors are just beginning to absorb the potential of genomics, but Perkins says they would do well to start prepping now. A former chief strategy and innovation officer at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he spoke with Devex about the changes ahead and how NGOs and international organizations working with the world’s poorest can take full advantage of the new technologies. Here are highlights from the conversation, edited for length and clarity.

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About the author

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    Elizabeth Dickinson

    Elizabeth Dickinson is associate editor at Devex. Based in the Middle East, she has previously served as Gulf correspondent for The National, assistant managing editor at Foreign Policy, and Nigeria correspondent at The Economist. Her writing also appeared in The New Yorker, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Politico Magazine, and Newsweek, among others.