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Life Sciences 2020

Precision medicine will lead to improved outcomes for patients

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Professor Mark Ferguson

Director General Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland

Through significant improvements in the treatment and prevention of diseases, we are now living longer.

The average life expectancy in Ireland is currently 84 years for women and 80.4 years for men. Historically, most treatment options fall into a one-size-fit-all approach but, increasingly, evidence from research is demonstrating that by taking a more ‘personalised’ approach to the treatment and prevention of diseases, we will improve patient outcomes as well as reduce costs.

Through advanced research, we can now begin to consider individual variability in genes, environment and lifestyle factors, along with the unique pathways of diseases or treatment response of individual patients. Increasingly, doctors are focused on developing personalised treatment programmes that are tailored to patients based on their individual needs.

Can cross sector collaboration carry us to the cure for cancer?

In Ireland, for example, more than 40,000 people are diagnosed with cancer each year, but outcomes for patients are improving. Recently, Science Foundation Ireland supported the establishment of the Precision Oncology Ireland Consortium led by researchers in UCD. The consortium involves five Irish universities, six Irish cancer research charities and 10 companies all collaborating to take on the challenge of tailoring cancer treatments to individual patients based on their unique cancer. It is this type of collaboration that will keep Ireland at the forefront of discovery and ensure better outcomes for patients.

The aim of this research consortium is to bring experimental and computational advances together to develop better diagnostics (based on personal molecular markers), personalised cancer therapies and to accelerate cancer drug discovery and development. The programme will also provide key infrastructural supports to researchers, co-ordinating access to tumour biobanks, and allowing access to state-of-the-art technologies.

Ireland has unique and world-leading expertise in precision oncology. This transformative collaborative research programme will harness that expertise to enable real progress in personalised medicine for cancer patients, allowing us to take a leadership position in this important area of healthcare.

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