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To Many More Healthy Days To Us!

With more focus on understanding diseases at a cellular and genetic level, our life expectancy is increasing

Photo Credit : Subhabrata Das


The average life expectancy has dramatically increased the world over. According to UN estimates, there were nearly half a million centenarians in 2015, more than four times as many as in 1990. The US had the highest number of centenarians (72,000), followed by Japan (61,000), China (48,000) and India (27,000). Better nutrition and healthcare, improved hygiene, and the advent of antibiotics have contributed to the rise in average life expectancy in the developed world to over 80 years. In India too, life expectancy has increased by more than 10 years in the past two decades.

Tomorrow’s world will have an ageing population, but with a better quality of life where the retirement age could be 80! The improvement in life expectancy will be driven by new medical breakthroughs that are based on a deeper understanding of disease mechanisms, diagnoses, and treatments, using genomics and cell biology.

Today, genomic sequencing is combined with molecular diagnostics, imaging, and data analytics to analyse the cellular structure of malignant tumours and tailor the treatment regimens. In future, genomics data and other clinical information will be integrated with day-to-day medical practice, allowing doctors to quickly and accurately decide on a specific line of treatment for patients. In future, every one could have a lifelong genome map for tracking mutations that are linked to their disease causing potential. This will enable early diagnosis and early therapeutic intervention, thereby arresting disease progression and enhancing quality of life.

Advances in cellular reprogramming techniques hold promise of therapies that can reverse cellular signs of aging such as accumulation of DNA damage. Such therapies can be in clinical trials in the next 10 years, according to Salk Institute researchers who have successfully developed a new technique to rejuvenate organs that have helped animals live longer.

Battling Terminal Diseases
We are witnessing development of innovative therapies that are addressing the unmet patient needs for life-saving therapies. Today, cancer is the cause of ‘one in seven’ deaths worldwide. In the coming years, biomedical advances promise to reduce cancer to a manageable chronic disease from a death sentence.

Biologics like insulins and monoclonal antibodies have emerged as a class of highly-effective transformational life-saving drugs targeted at chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer. The ability of biologics to target specific proteins makes them more effective than small molecule therapies for a variety of medical illnesses and conditions. Biologic therapies such as insulin, erythropoietin and growth hormones have played an invaluable role in treating serious illnesses such as diabetes, anaemia and renal diseases. More complex biologics like monoclonal antibodies (MAbs), cytokines and therapeutic vaccines, are now transforming the standard of treatment for cancer, autoimmune disorders and other chronic diseases. For instance, Trastuzumab has brought new hope to thousands of breast cancer patients with HER2 protein over-expression, which is an aggressive form of the cancer that tends to grow faster and is more likely to spread and relapse compared to HER2-negative breast cancers.

Cancer immunotherapies that harness the power of the immune system to target and fight malignant tumors, have provided the medical community with a new weapon to fight certain types of cancers. Some of these novel immunotherapy drugs are pointing to a paradigm shift in how cancer is going to be treated in future.

CRISPR Technology
CRISPR-Cas9, a breakthrough tool that alters or replaces the DNA of nearly any living organism with unprecedented precision, promises to make gene editing faster, easier, efficient, and cheaper compared to previously available technologies.

There was considerable excitement in the biotech world this November when scientists in China tested CRISPR gene-editing on a human for the first time. Cells modified with CRISPR technology were tested on a patient suffering from an aggressive form of lung cancer. CRISPR was used to edit out genes that were preventing the patient’s immune cells from attacking malignant cells. These modified immune cells were injected into the patient to fight back the disease. The trial primarily sought to establish the safety of using CRISPR-based genetic modification to fight cancer. Beyond cancer, CRISPR holds the promise of therapeutic applications in tackling hitherto incurable genetic disorders such as haemophilia, muscular dystrophy, sickle-cell anaemia and cystic fibrosis, as well as chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. In time, CRISPR can open the door to affordable therapies that offer the right treatment for the right patient at the right time with minimising side effects and maximising positive outcomes.

The rising popularity of CRISPR technology mirrors today’s medical paradigm that is rapidly evolving from treating symptoms to understanding diseases at a cellular and genetic level to deliver personalised diagnostics and therapies.

Scientists are even looking at the possibility of using CRISPR technology to grow human organs in animals for transplantation to effectively tackle the shortage of human donors.

Stem Cell Therapy
Today, stem cell therapy provides new hope in not only curing a number of debilitating diseases but also building organs in laboratories for patients. Scientists believe that stem cell therapy can be key to managing cancer, heart diseases, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, etc. in the near future. Advances in stem cell therapy and 3D bio-printing will allow human body parts to be replaced with laboratory-grown organs, with costs coming down exponentially over the next 30 years.

Ensuring Affordability
These are exciting times for the life science sector as it tries to understand disease at the cellular and genetic level to develop new and differentiated therapies. Innovative therapies today are addressing the unmet patient needs for life enhancement. Going ahead, biomedical advances will transform global health with early diagnosis and therapeutic intervention for chronic and terminal diseases like cancer, with a promise to enhance the quality of patients’ lives. Even as we transition to a new medical paradigm, the focus should firmly be on ensuring that these breakthrough technologies are affordable and thus accessible, so maximum people can benefit from them.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Kiran Mazumdar Shaw

The author is chairman and managing director of Biocon

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