Drugs get personal.

Not all patients are the same. Nor are their diseases. As diagnostic skills get better, drugs are getting more specific to personal needs and stages of disease progression – but our system isn’t built to give this kind of bespoke medication. The pharmaceutical industry is working on drugs targeted at specific groups of sufferers, such as those who lack genes to make a vital protein or those at a certain stage of their illness. However, to get them to market the whole process of diagnosis and treatment, and the supply chain behind them, need to be rewritten.

Chronic hepatitis C is just one serious disease that is responding well to a more focused attack. The best treatment for this condition is now thought to come from monitoring biological indicators of the progress of the disease, altering treatment as new milestones are hit, and having a clear endpoint where therapy should be discontinued.

A bottleneck in doing treatment this is the turn-around-time for the most important diagnostic index, the hepatitis C “viral load”. Assessing the viral load is currently only available in the laboratory setting, but if this doesn’t change it will delay feedback and new medicines such as the direct acting antivirals which are due to appear in the NHS system next year (2012) will not be used to their full potential.

It will be hard for smaller NHS bodies to do this, particularly because of distance constraints. UCL’s Department of Management Science and Innovation is working on business tools which will demonstrate how this new treatment can be done right for CHC – and then adapted for different conditions.

Placing new solutions and resources correctly will provide shorter, more effective treatment for patients, and mean that more patients can be treated. Business gets personal – and people get better.