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Xinhua Insight: China takes precision medicine to heart
2016-08-21    

BEIJING, Aug. 11 (Xinhua) -- Precision medicine -- personalized prevention and treatment based on one's genetic make-up, medical history, and lifestyle -- promises efficient solutions to health problems at a low cost.

Suffering from hypertension for more than three years, Wang Qiang, 23, is a Chinese patient who has already benefited from the new approach.

After genetic testing, he was prescribed a drug targeting a specific inherited condition and his blood pressure has been under control ever since.

In addition to tailoring therapies to individual patients, precision medicine's possibilities include non-invasive prenatal DNA testing and more effective biopsies.

FROM BACK MARKER TO FRONT RUNNER

Precise medicine is on the rise in many developed countries. Last year. the United States outlined its precision medicine initiative, with plans to gather data from 1 million volunteers by 2019.

Britain has the 100,000 Genomes project targeting cancer patients and those with rare diseases, while France is to spend 670 million euros (750 million U.S. dollars) on a similar scheme.

In China, precision medicine is seen as an opportunity to leapfrog Western countries and exchange its traditional role as follower for that of leader through large scale genomic initiatives.

"Precision medicine provides a great opportunity to build a healthy China within an innovation-driven economy," said Zhan Qimin of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

In January, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) announced a precision medicine plan involving whole genome sequence analysis, genome sequence health profiles and early warning and intervention research based on genetic factors in key chronic diseases. A national gene database has been established and 27 genetic testing research centers will be set up across the country.

Local governments, businesses and research institutes are currently focusing on developing equipment such as gene sequencers, mass spectrometers and molecular imaging units.

Last year, Chinese genomics company BGI unveiled a high-throughput genome sequencer and desktop sequencing software now used in its sequencing operations. The company plans to market the device globally, the first significant Chinese contribution to the commercial development of personal genomics and the beginning of the country's attempt to muscle its way to the head of the field.

SO FAR, SO GOOD

Precision medicine relies considerably on data storage, processing and analysis. The CAS Institute of Computing has developed software capable of whole-genome sequence analysis and reporting within 24 hours through big data mining.

At present, the data base contains over 10,000 genetic maps, information on over 300,000 genetic complaints and profiles of 1,000 targeted drugs, according to CAS researcher Zhao Yi.

"The data is very far from enough, which is the main hurdle to precision medicine," said Wang Shan, deputy head of Chinese Medical Doctors Association.

Most Chinese people don't even have complete individual medical records, and there is no national standard for digital medical records nor protocol for sharing information between hospitals, Wang added. Another problem is that the costs of genetic testing are not covered by national medical insurance so many patients refuse to be sequenced.

There are also problems with the accuracy of genetic testing in China. According to a 2015 NHFPC report, only 12 of 72 clinical laboratories surveyed offered 100 percent exact data on tumor gene sequencing.

(From Xinhua, 2016-08-11)