Biomarkers: in the era of molecular medicine

11 June 2019

Blog by Elaine Lima de Souza – Ph.D. in Sciences

The medical and scientific communities are both engaged in to understand and to develop solutions for a better quality of life. From basic to translational research, it is all that matters. Pharmaceutical companies also share the same interest but with an extra twist: to save money. Biomarkers will be important key players in prevention, precision medicine, and for the identification of key molecules accelerating drug discovery.

Biomarkers are biological signs that will “mark” the presence or predict the emerging of a specific biological state (normal or pathological process or a response to treatment). Those biomarkers can be a biological molecule like, protein, microRNA, genetic mutation, etc.

Saving lives. Saving money

The importance of prevention is easy to understand. Prevention led to a better quality of life, higher chances of survival, and the ultimate goal is to avoid the disease before even any symptom starts. That can be possible with the use of Biomarkers. Biomarkers can be used clinically for disease diagnosis, disease staging, and selection of the best treatment.

Prevention is not only a great ally for a better quality of life, but also it has an economic impact. Data from Harvard Medical School shows that 69 million workers report missed days due to illness each year in America. Just taking cardiovascular diseases as an example is reported that prevention could save $41 billion a year in insurance health costs. We can imagine that the same number is true for other chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes.

Treat or not treat; that is the question!

Predictive diagnostic tests will help in the decision of the most efficient treatment for individual patients at the moment of diagnosis. For example, Dutch diagnostic tests are using gene signature-based diagnostic to access the risk of metastases in the lymph nodes in breast cancer (Agendia) and melanoma (SkylineDx). Setting the risk will help clinicians to choose the best treatment for each patient, or even if they need to be treated at all. It is estimated that almost 50% of breast cancer patients go through unnecessary chemotherapy because clinical diagnostic classifies those as high risk. The use of biomarkers can increase the quality of life in those patients, and to decrease the money spend with unnecessary treatments.

Modern gene sequencing technologies and BIG DATA will be used to compare treatments responses in patients sharing the same genetic signature. It will allow clinicians to choose the best medical treatment in a personalized manner increasing the success of therapy. The advantages of those approaches are not only for the patients that will get better treatment but also for the health system because the money invested will be used for more efficient treatments to tackle the disease.

The faster, the better

Biomarkers are there to accelerate drug discovery and to increase the success rate of drug development programs. How? Biomarkers can be used to monitor the safety of therapy, to determine if a treatment is having the desired effects in the body, predict patients who might respond better to a drug from a safety or efficacy perspective. Potentially enable time and costs savings in clinical trials.

The era of Molecular Medicine has arrived! The understanding of biomarkers becomes essential. We have to be prepared for new times in the health care industry.

ElaineElaine Lima de Souza, Contributor: I’ve spent a decade working in science. I have an MSc and Ph.D. from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, and three years postdoc at Erasmus MC. I worked with rare diseases and molecular diagnostics. From thyroid physiology to cancer. I’m an award-winning scientist with 14 international peer-review publications. Moreover, I’m passionate about reading fiction and non-fiction books and share ideas. All of my articles reflect my personal views.