Andrew L. Pecora, MD
I recently had the privilege to attend and present at the Third International Conference on the Progress of Regenerative Medicine and its Cultural Impact, in Vatican City. Organized by Dr. Robin Smith of the Stem for Life Foundation, the conference was attended by numerous global leaders in faith, regenerative and cancer medicine, rare diseases, immunologic and cell sciences, information technology, nutrition, philanthropy, population health, insurance, governmental regulation, entertainment, and news media. The three days of lectures, meetings, and events included a presentation by Vice President Biden, a visit with Pope Francis, and a private concert in the Sistine Chapel by U2’s The Edge. A common theme evolved that illuminated the continuous pain and suffering experienced by humanity and caused by serious and chronic disease, and the cost associated with treatment.
Here we are, well into the new century and about to leverage precision medicine to eliminate currently incurable diseases such as diabetes, neurodegenerative disorders, and advanced cancers, to name a few; and yet, the divide between our ability to use these advances and their affordability continues to grow. This raises the larger societal issue of access on a global scale. Are the medicines of tomorrow, which are expected to cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, only going to be available to the privileged few or can we find solutions so they can be available to most of the population?
Among conference participants, a consensus emerged on the value of analytics and big data as a path forward to overcoming cost barriers. You see, we expend $2.7 trillion on healthcare in the United States—17% of our gross domestic product (GDP). In place of arguing that this is too much and we should limit care access to reduce this expenditure, the Vatican City gathering considered the promise of big data.
How about if we work to eliminate unnecessary care, estimated to be $870 billion annually (5.2% of the US GDP), and what if we do the right thing every time—not too much and not too little. To accomplish this, COTA (a big-data precision analytics company, in which I serve as executive chairman), Foundation Medicine (a genomics company), and Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield (a payer) teamed up to show how the use of precision analytics and precision medicines can lead to enlightened payment reform creating true value. Every person deserves the best care; and where better than the Vatican to shine a light on a path forward for all of us.