Genomics, The Human Genome Project & Anu Acharya

Jul 12, 2019 in Genetics
Posted By : Upendra Namburi

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I had met Anu at a round table interaction with a leading pharmaceutical organization. Her work in and passion for genomics is well founded, with the considerable promise it offers for quality of life. For those of you who are not as clued onto this fascinating and complex topography of Genomics, you'll find this interaction both informative and inspiring.

As an opener, what is genomics?

We inherit our genes from our parents. Genes give us our identity and connect us to our lineage, our heritage. While 99.9% of the genome is the same for all humans – the 0.1% that varies from person to person is the key to all the diversity among humans.

Our health, habits, physiology, and psyche have a strong hereditary component, whose information is coded in our genes or DNA that forms the building block of our cells. Genomics is the technology to analyze our DNA and to use this information for various purposes – to understand our ancestry, to learn more about factors that affect our health, and to build a healthy future. In short, it connects our past, present, and future, giving us our true Janam Patri. We call this Genomepatri.

 

Genomics is an extremely interesting and rapidly evolving area. Which are the key areas in which we can expect significant impact with genomics?

Healthcare — offering personalized healthcare solutions to individuals, helping doctors to confirm diagnosis and devise treatment plans, enabling fitness and nutrition experts to personalize weight loss plans, empowering families to prevent or delay the onset of hereditary diseases, identifying populations at risk for certain genetic conditions, helping couples in conception and delivery of healthy babies, etc.

Genomics data finds great use in R&D of new drugs

Food technology —personalization in nutrition and supplements

Mobile apps and wearable technology — in combination with genomics, they can create personalized user experiences

Learning technology — from identifying and developing individual strengths of students to aiding children with special education needs.

Agriculture — improving plant yield, developing healthier and disease resistant strains

Veterinary science — from preconception to healthcare

Sports technology — identifying players’ strengths, avoiding injuries, building mental and physical health, etc.

Beauty — personalization in beauty products and services based on genetic findings.

 

The promise of genomics is immense. How’re accessibility and costs changing? And, by when do you believe it will be truly affordable to the common man?

 With advances in technology, we see a reduction in costs — 10 years ago, getting the entire genome sequenced cost a lot. Today, it is affordable to many people.

In terms of cost, they may appear expensive. However, when one compares the costs with the benefits, it becomes clear that some of these tests are an investment: once-in-a-lifetime cost to avoid or delay many diseases while moving towards healthier habits. Moreover, there are big and small panels in all price ranges, made affordable with attractive financing options.

For further reduction in costs, we need to see changes such as government subsidies, reduction in import tariffs.

Such tests were once available only in some nations. Our tests are non-invasive and easy to use.  Today, we receive samples from across the globe.

 

Which are the key stakeholders who can stimulate genomics to realize it’s potential? And, what do they need to do?

Healthcare providers. We are more likely to listen to our doctors. Hence, it is extremely important to focus more on subjects such as genomics in the curriculum for medical students.

 

Which industries can leverage genomics more effectively in the coming years?

Healthcare is the biggest benefactor from this technology and improvements in technology and innovation make further development possible.

For pharma, access to some relevant data can mean a huge reduction in drug development costs.

Food and agri-tech can reap benefits from human and plant genomics.

 

Can you share some breakthroughs / tipping points in genomics in recent years and some innovations we can look forward to in the coming years?

The completion of the Human Genome Project opened the doors. The improvements in technologies such as Next Generation Sequencing made this vision possible. Addition of other evolving technologies helped – genomics is a translational science involving experts from many domains such as cloud computing, publishing, genetic counselling, etc.

Big data, visualization improvements and new technologies that allow better visualization such as Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality impact how genomic data is reported. When you add block chain technologies to this mix, you have a scope for building a secure and patient centric collaborative platform for genomics and precision medicine.

Adoption of artificial intelligence in pharma with focus on improving efficacy and safety of treatment options increases the relevance of pharmacogenomic data.

 

Can you share some challenges faced and mistakes made by you, when creating and expanding a new category – genomics? And, tips for others who are creating new categories and markets?

We are the pioneers of personal genomics in India – when we introduced this concept in India, we did not have a ready market. Over the years, we have built a customer-base. We had to educate healthcare professionals about the difference this technology can make to their practice.  We built strategic partnerships with many healthcare providers to increase our market share.

To create new categories and markets, one should understand the DNA of innovation – Due Diligence before building a product, Networking to spread awareness, right Action at the right time.


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