When will data-powered personalized health hit ‘escape velocity’?

From gadgets that monitor our activity and vital signs, to startups that let us explore our own DNA – there are more technologies than ever for collecting and analyzing personal health data.

For now, the applications of personal health data are mostly the stuff of “Quantified Self” hobbyists and experimental research. But some say it may not be too long before personal health data becomes a powerful part of the mainstream clinical experience.

At the Health 2.0 conference in San Francisco on Wednesday, David Ewing Duncan, a journalist and author of “When I’m 164,” asked a panel of health data leaders when data-driven personalized health might reach “escape velocity”.

In reply, the panelists – who included Anne Wojcicki, co-founder of personal genomics startup 23andme; Andrew Litt, chief medical officer for Dell; Jake Leschly president and CEO of biomedical information and analytics company Ingenuity Systems and Aaron Horowitz, CEO of interactive toy company Sproutel – said they mostly agreed that widespread adoption could happen in five years, with some saying valuable but intermittent work could happen even sooner.

“I think you’re going to see meaningful impact in the 18-24-month time frame, but I think you’re going to start to see it widespread in all physicians’ offices in five to seven years,” Wojcicki said.

According to PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the personalized medicine market is expected to reach $450 billion by 2015, Duncan said. And an increasing number of companies are going after the opportunities. The field still needs more work to figure out how best the analyze and make discoveries from data. But examples are already emerging that point to what the future could be.

Wojcicki talked about how 23andme’s rich database of genotypic and phenotypic data (which users provide in response to surveys) is already helping associate genes and variants of genes with certain conditions. To date, she said, the company has 180,000 customers and receives one million new phenotypic data points weekly from the surveys.

“Big data – that’s the heart of what 23andme is doing,” she said. “How do I take all that survey data about you and combine it with the genetic data and make sense of it?”

Last October, the company announced that it had discovered a gene variant that may protect those at high risk for Parkinson’s. And she also talked about a recent example in which they helped determine that a specific gene variant was likely not responsible for pancreatic cancer. The traditional path would have involved months of research and potentially millions of dollars, she said, but 23andme’s genomic approach took only a matter of days.

And at Dell, Litt said, genomics research is working to help personalize medication.  Instead of taking a one-size-fits-all approach to drug recommendations, he said, the goal is for physicians to be able to prescribe the medication that is best suited for a patient’s particular genetic profile.

Image by wongwean via Shutterstock.