The Next Genomics Breakthrough: Launching the Conversation

To those of us who spend our days focused on the field of healthcare, attending medical conferences, and reading industry publications such as this, it’s obvious that the application of genomics to medicine and health is accelerating. Nearly every day, news emerges touting advances in genomics-based biomarkers, molecular diagnostic testing, and targeted therapies. So it seems impossible that only one in four American consumers has heard or read much about genomics. Despite this low awareness, consumers express high interest in this emerging area of healthcare. And, equally promising, so do their physicians. This high interest presents a significant opportunity for pharmaceutical, biotech, and molecular diagnostic marketers: get the genomics conversation going.


Only 22% of consumers say they have heard at least “a fair amount” about the practice of using individual genetic information to understand and optimize health; a mere 3% say they have heard or read “a lot,” according to results of the Cogent Genomics Attitudes & Trends (CGAT) 2010 Study we conducted in partnership with CAHG. When considering more specific applications of genomics-based medicine—such as determining an individual’s predisposition to disease, diagnosing existing health conditions or diseases, and informing treatment selection decisions—awareness levels fluctuate some, but not by much. Genetic screening for predisposition to disease is the application consumers know best: close to one-third (32%) having heard at least “a fair amount.” Pharmacogenomics is the area consumers know least about: 45% of all adults say they have heard “nothing” about using their genetic information to assist in the selection of prescription drugs that will be most effective and/or safe in their bodies. This is somewhat surprising given the increased attention around pharmacogenetic testing for widely prescribed drugs such as Coumadin and Plavix, as well as the increasing number of targeted therapies in oncology. Awareness of genomics in diagnosis falls in between: 28% reporting they have heard at least a “fair amount” about the subject.


Before you conclude that consumers’ low awareness of genomics is driven by a lack of interest, think again. More than half say they are, in fact, interested in all three applications of genomics-based medicine. Interest is greatest when it comes to diagnosing health conditions or diseases (59%) and assisting with treatment selection (60%): Though interest in using genetic information to determine one’s predisposition to disease ranks last of the three applications, it still appeals to a majority (52%), with about one in five (22%) saying they are “extremely” interested. On the flip side, very few consumers lack interest in these applications: no more than two in ten show disinterest in treatment selection (14%), diagnosis (14%), and predisposition (20%).

When it comes to making treatment decisions based on genetic testing, two-thirds (65%) of consumers are interested in testing to determine potential adverse reactions to a specific drug. Slightly fewer (but still more than half) say they would be interested in testing to identify which drugs would be most effective given their genetic profile (58%) or in determining whether they should consider taking a drug to prevent a specific disease (56%).

Physicians and their patients share similar interest in genomics-based medicine, as findings from a landmark physician study by CAHG reveal. The vast majority of physicians (9 in 10) believe that all three applications of genomics-based medicine will be beneficial to their practices. Even more encouraging is this: despite their frenetic work schedules, physicians are willing to invest their scarcest resource—their time—in learning about genomics-based medicine. In fact, 71% acknowledge they will “make the time to learn what I need to know to integrate genomics-based medicine into my practice.”

For physician and patient alike, the ability to act is what drives interest in genomics-based solutions. When asked what is the greatest benefit of using genetic information for the purpose of understanding and optimizing health, 70% of consumers cite the ability to act, whether that means to prevent disease (32%) or to treat or cure disease (25%). Furthermore, when asked what would be the biggest drawback of genomics, consumers are most apt to say that it would be the added emotional stress of “knowing”— particularly if “doing” is not also part of the picture (24%). And 35% of consumers go so far as to say it would be too depressing to know they were at risk of getting a disease, if there was nothing they could do about it. While about half (47%) of physicians agree with patients on this issue—stating that diagnosing a patient with a disease they cannot treat is depressing to them—many of them will still take action in the absence of a solution. For example, 4 in 10 would use a molecular diagnostic test to screen a pre-symptomatic patient, even if there was no known treatment (therapeutic, surgical, or lifestyle intervention) available. Likewise, 4 in 10 would use a molecular diagnostic test to diagnose a patient even if no treatment exists.


Physicians and patients also agree about something else: they aren’t talking to each other enough about genomics testing. Only 2% of consumers say they have asked their doctors whether they would benefit from having a genomics-based test. Physicians corroborate this: over the past 12 months, only 3% of their patients have initiated a discussion about genomics-based medicine (including molecular diagnostics and targeted therapies). While oncologists have these conversations twice as often as other physicians, even they report that only 8% of patients are bringing up the topic. And only 2% of consumers say their physicians have initiated such a conversation. One possible reason is that doctors are relatively unfamiliar with genomics-based medicine. Only 8% of physicians say they are very familiar with the current issues and advances, and only one out of two is confident that he or she can converse with patients about genomics-based medicine in language they will understand.


The results of these two studies are clear: consumers and physicians are eager to learn more about genomics-based medicine. Equally clear is the lack of dialogue within this critical relationship. This lack of dialogue, however, presents opportunities for companies wanting to take a lead. Opportunities range from significant initiatives (like a multichannel advertising and promotional campaign discussing their advances in this area) to more modest programs (like providing resources to help physicians discuss genomics issues with their patients). Any initiatives that turn up the level of conversation between these two important customers provide the potential for differentiation and competitive advantage.


About CGAT™. Data from the fifth annual Cogent Genomics Attitudes & Trends (CGAT™) study, conducted in partnership with CAHG, are based on a nationally representative survey of 1,000 Americans. The study measures Americans’ attitudes toward using genetic information for health optimization overall, as well as for specific components such as disease predisposition, diagnosis and treatment, and nutrigenomics.

About the CAHG Physician Study. Data from the CAHG Physician Study are based on a nationally representative sample of three physician groups: primary care physicians, oncologists, and cardiologists. A total of 801 physicians were included in the study, which measured physicians’ awareness, attitudes, and adoption of genomics-based medicine and molecular diagnostics, including application for pre-symptomatic screening, diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment selection. The study also included a proprietary micro-segmentation model to help identify likely early adopters of genomics-based medicine.


DISCLAIMER: The Guest Commentary page allows contributors to voice their opinions on important issues that affect the industry. The views of the authors are their own and are not necessarily those of PM360 and its staff.


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