A World Without Disease - Are We Ready for a Paradigm Shift from Treatment to Prevention and Disease Interception?


As the population ages, is it possible to prevent, intercept and delay the onset of disease to live not only longer but expand the healthy period of life? Academic and industry experts discussed the concept of immorbidity - a perspective on medicine in which the priority shifts from treating or curing diseases like cancer and Alzheimer's to preventing, intercepting and halting the progression of disease -- at a session titled "Lifespan or Healthspan: Is it Time for a Paradigm Shift?" at the BIO International Convention on Wednesday, June 8. Dr. Keith Yamamoto, executive vice dean of the School of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco and Dr. William N. Hait, global head of Research and Development of Janssen, the Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, discussed the science and policy implications of such a concept, the role of personalized medicine and the rationale for shifting investments from post-symptom to pre-symptom care. The session, facilitated by Research!America, opened the personalized medicine track at the convention.

"The conversation can't be about cutting costs or cutting corners," said Mary Woolley, president and CEO of Research!America. "It has to be about future progress by empowering innovation" for the benefit of patients. She said it's important for candidates running for national office to talk about the importance of spurring medical progress by putting every sector of the research ecosystem to work.

Most individuals begin developing chronic diseases way before they reach 50, said Hait. "Like it or not, all of us are sitting here incubating some disease or several diseases," he claimed. If you can live to 100 with unwanted maladies, "it seems to us that a company like Johnson & Johnson should focus on the concept of not getting a disease in the first place."  The first step is to move from susceptibility to measuring risk of disease, then investigating causes of disease. “Our goal is to make significant progress toward a “World Without Disease” by 2030," he said.

"Imagine the human of the future like our cars today.” The body would be equipped with sensors that measure and monitor our health, said Hait. Companies would need to develop products such as monitors and better diagnostics such as next generation imaging to detect disease early enough to eliminate it. Yamamoto noted that precision medicine allows researchers to aggregate all biological data to make comparisons and reveal patterns and disparate information about an individual's health to improve diagnosis and treatment.

The Kennedy Moonshot, Yamamoto added, caught people's imaginations, the idea of putting a man on the moon. The technologies that were developed to support the endeavor were the result of President Kennedy's ability to enunciate the challenge to the public, similar to the challenges of sequencing the genome and the goal of creating a world without disease, he said. "It forces people to aim high," asserted Hait, noting that Vice President Biden's cancer moonshot could help drive this paradigm shift by encouraging sectors to collaborate, share data with the government acting as a convener to bring different groups to the table.

"The weakest link in the chain is behavioral science," said Hait, emphasizing that many of the diseases we are susceptible to become reality because of our behaviors.  All sectors need to support behavioral science and encourage the brightest minds to work in that field, he said. 


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Without continued support for health research, many of the most promising young scientists, their ideas and a myriad of potentially life-changing scientific breakthroughs will vanish into oblivion.
Paul Marinec, PhD; University of California San Francisco