Israel launches $60m initiative to boost tailor-made meds

Precision Medicine Partnership will help researchers and doctors match treatments to patients suffering from cancer and others diseases

Shoshanna Solomon was The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Illustrative image of a scientist in a lab (Likoper, iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative image of a scientist in a lab (Likoper, iStock by Getty Images)

Israel has launched an innovative new program to encourage researchers to venture into the field of precision medicine, an emerging medical approach in which treatments are tailored to meet the specific needs of patients and their illnesses.

The Israel Precision Medicine Partnership, launched on Monday at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, is a collaboration between the Israeli government, including the Planning and Budgeting Committee of the Council for Higher Education and the Digital Israel initiative of the Ministry of Social Equality, and The Klarman Family Foundation, Yad Hanadiv and the Israel Science Foundation.

The initiative will receive $60 million over the next seven years.

Traditionally, drugs are developed and targeted to the “average” patient. But with the cost of genetic sequencing dropping dramatically over the past 15 years, new ways are being developed to match the specific needs of patients. Precision medicine is already making inroads in diagnosing and preventing genetic diseases, and cancer and treatment and diagnosis.

“We know that every person is genetically different from the other, both regarding their molecular properties and how the disease develops in them. This causes them to respond differently to treatments,” said Prof. Benjamin Geiger, chairman of the Academic Board of the Israel Science Foundation, in a phone interview.

“With all the amazing inroads classical medicine has made, in many cases it still fails to give optimal therapeutic solutions to diseases. Some tumors for example develop resistances, and people respond differently to the various treatments offered.”

Prof. Benjamin Geiger speaking at the launch of the Israel Precision Medicine Partnership in Jerusalem on March 19, 2018. (Moshe Shai)

The idea of the project, Geiger said, is to enable researchers to work closely with physicians and volunteer patients to build a strong molecular profile of patients. They would then analyze the data with powerful computational approaches to try to match the treatment to the individual disease of the person.

“In the future, treatments won’t be just aimed for the ‘average patient’, but therapies will be more precise,” Geiger said. “The researchers partaking in this program will discover novel insights about patients’ molecular profile and the manifestation of the disease, which will enable the selection or development of the most appropriate treatment.”

The vision, he said, is to create “a major turning point” in the practice of medicine, by developing tools that can be made available for practitioners.

Precision medicine is still in its infancy worldwide, with “tremendous activity in the US and leading institutions worldwide,” he added. Israel, however, with its highly diverse population, its strong computational abilities and the culture of cooperation between researchers and physicians, has a strong foundation to make a mark in the field, he added.

(Full disclosure: The Klarman Foundation’s Seth Klarman is the chairman and capital partner of The Times of Israel.)

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