Precision medicine. It’s the term often used when referring to the exciting and emerging field of genomics – where digital health is cutting its teeth on some of the most promising work in healthcare.
By incorporating genetic material into research and treatment plans, patients can experience more individualized care that’s geared toward increasing the effectiveness of treatment options. Leading to:
- Increased quality
- Better outcomes
- Improved patient satisfaction
With the apparent links between disease and genetics in the GCC – it’s becoming a region primed for the benefits that genomic applications have to offer.
There’s a great need for genomic application in the Arab world, since many diseases have higher prevalence rates here.
Fahd Al-Mulla, Kuwait’s head of molecular pathology, cites the high degree of consanguinity which exists in the Middle East as a probable culprit for the imbalance in disease states in the region including:
- Breast cancer
- Colon cancer
- Heart disease
- Birth defects
All have genetic components that can be tracked to provide early disease indicators for the purposes of prevention and care individualization.
That’s why the rapid expansion of genome technologies in the GCC is so exciting – and why his work with fellow researchers in the second phase of the Genome Arabia Project is so important for populations here:
“to aid in our push for implementing full-scale genomics in medical practice.”
Genomic Application in the GCC
One example of genomic application in the GCC is the Oncotype DX testing offered by NewBridge Pharmaceuticals.
The genomic application helps to predict whether women are at an increased risk for breast and colon cancer recurrence.
It is targeted specifically for those with early-stage, estrogen-positive invasive breast cancer, ductal carcinoma in situ of the breast, and patients with stage II and stage III colon cancer.
Both diseases are highly prevalent in the MENA, with breast cancer accounting for 42% of all cancers in the region.
Those women who do contract the disease are typically nearly 10 years younger than those in the U.S. upon first diagnosis.
In addition, colon cancer rates in certain parts of the Middle East are much higher than those in the U.S., which suggests that genetic and environmental factors may be impacting them.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Over the past year, genomic application in the region has rapidly expanded - especially with the recently initiated Saudi Human Genome Program. Described as a
“national research project to study the genetic basis of all disease in the Kingdom and through the Middle East and use the findings to offer the ultimate personal care in Saudi Arabia,”
Implementation plans include sequencing 100,000 human genomes over the next 5 years in order to study normal and disease-associated genes specific to the Saudi population.
Prince Dr. Turki bin Saud Al Saud, President for Research Institutes at King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) says:
“The Saudi Human Genome Program will position the Kingdom at the forefront of personalized medicine and will empower our citizens to help them make informed decisions for their health plans.”
Dubai has also implemented large genomic initiatives, such as the Catalogue for Transmission Genetics in Arabs. According to Dr. Abdul Ressak Hamzek, Senior Scientific Coordinator, Centre for Arab Genomic Studies, Dubai, UAE,
“The CTGA (Catalogue for Transmission Genetics in Arabs) database is the largest ethnic-based genetic database worldwide and it currently hosts a collection of over 1600 records of genetic disorders and their related genes. These records provide good quality coverage of both clinical and molecular aspects of the genetic disorder, and more importantly, they offer comprehensive and updated coverage of research results on these disorders in Arab populations.”
Examples of genomic programs from 2013
These are just a few of the many new genomic programs started in the GCC in 2013, positive indicators for the future of genomic medicine in the region. Additional examples include:
- Based in Dubai, Eastern Biotech provides genetic testing and counseling to the Middle Eastern healthcare community. Recently, it partnered with BGI Health to provide Trigene, a non-invasive prenatal diagnostic test for detecting trisomy 21 for the regions in the Middle East.
- In early 2013, IntegenX signed an agreement with Scientific Analytical Tools Trading (based in the UAE) to distribute their rapid DNA identification system in the UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.
- Dubai’s Newbridge Pharmaceuticals began offering non-invasive pre-natal testing in the Middle East to detect trisomy 21, 18, and 13, as well as the most common fetal sex chromosome aneuploidies, such as Turner syndrome, Triple X, Klinefelter syndrome, and Jacobs’s syndrome.
- Partners & Partners made a deal with Aviir to be the sole distributor of its tests to MENA, including the Aviir MIRISK VP Assessment test for assessing an individual’s risk for heart attack. The projected benefit is a positive impact on the epidemic of life-style related diseases in this region that contribute to cardiac events.
The future of genomics
Genomics is becoming the hot new digital health star in the GCC and its potential is quickly growing.
Applications for use continue to expand, as well as the ability to enhance precision medicine, individualize care, and improve patient outcomes.
Current and future initiatives will continue to integrate genomic medicine as a foundational approach to disease prevention and treatment.