Would You Trade Shoulder Pain for a Heart Attack?
Chris is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.
The hot industries get all the press. The media keeps explaining how social media allows companies to have one-on-one relationships with customers and to target each customer directly. This is why social media expert Gary Vaynerchuk says that marketing is about to get really, really hard.
But the personalization trend is across the board. Health care, for instance, is quickly moving (for health care this means years) toward personalized medicine. Personalized medicine is important because patients’ genetic mutations or other conditions can greatly affect the different risks, side effects, and results of drug use.
There are more than 30 types of generic painkillers, like Aleve, and Celebrex. These drugs, known as “non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs,” have a great variance when compared between patients. Take Naproxen (Aleve), for example, which is marketed by Bayer (NASDAQOTH: BAYRY.PK), and is a similar product to Bristol-Myers Squibb’s (NYSE: BMY) Orencia, an arthritis drug. Naproxen is a prescription drug, or it can be purchased over-the-counter as Aleve. It is used to treat pain from arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, tendinitis, and shoulder inflammation (similar to Orencia). Athletes may use Aleve to reduce the swelling in their joints after intense workouts.
However, this drug carries with it tremendous risks. Risk of gastrointestinal bleeding and heart attack are two of the side effects. The dangerous part is that the drugs are often prescribed or used on a trial-and-error basis, after which point the doctor of the user will decide whether or not to continue with the drug.
Here is where personalized medicine comes in. Imagine that patients could take their own health data and type it into a computer program or smartphone app. The program synthesizes the data then tells the user three things – the drug to take, the dose, and the duration.
This type of innovation is paramount. Merck (NYSE: MRK) struggled with bad press from side effects, which caused it to pull Vioxx, a Cox-2 inhibitor, from the market in 2004. Vioxx was increasing patient risk of stroke and heart attack. However, Pfizer’s (NYSE: PFE) Celebrex is still on the market. Pfizer has largely avoided the side effect problem by keeping its side effect risk low, despite Celebrex also being a Cox-2 inhibitor.
In short, drugs work in different ways for different people. You can understand it like trying to lose weight. Different 50-year-old men will lose weight in different ways. For some, swimming will keep the fat off– for others it’s running. And for a select few, running will cause knee damage, putting the runner in even worse shape than before he started exercising.
What’s the Solution?
Luckily, the solution is what health care companies arguably do best – research. The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute just awarded the University of Pennsylvania $18 million to fund the first five years of a 10-year research project, which also involves Harvard, Cambridge, Duke, and Stanford. The goal of the study is to find “biological signs that could predict efficacy or side effects.”
To find out this information, researchers are testing Celebrex and Naproxen on five different groups: humans, mice, zebra fish, yeast, and mammalian cells. The researchers will look for different genetic variants that could increase the risk of dangerous side effects or that could predict the efficiency of a drug.
And the end goal? For a 17-year-old soccer player and a 48-year-old mother to be able to drop their personal data into a smart phone app – then that app tells them what to take, how much, and for how long. And you can bet that Pfizer, Bristol-Myers, Merck, and Bayer will be clamoring to win over that customer.
ChrisMarasco has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. The Motley Fool has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.If you have questions about this post or the Fool’s blog network, click here for information.