Democratising healthcare through genomics
We talked to Sumit Jamuar, the Chairman and CEO at Global Gene Corp, a genomics platform company with a vision to democratize healthcare through genomics. The company is creating representative genomics data and insights from under-explored populations in Asia, Middle East, Latin-America and Africa to supplement the existing Caucasian data to apply in therapeutics development, discovery and patient stratification. Global Gene Corp has been profiled by BBC, the Financial Times, MIT Technology Review and selected as “The Next Big Thing” by Cambridge Network.
What’s your company’s vision? What do you want to achieve and why?
Sumit Jamuar: Our vision is to democratise healthcare through genomics. Our mission is to map and organise the world’s genomic diversity and make it useful to deliver health and longevity for every one of us. The information encoded in our DNA defines us as humans. It reveals personal stories of where we come from in terms of ancestry and family relationships, and influences all aspects of our health, from the risk of disease to how quickly the body breaks down drugs. This information is increasingly being used as the basis for new tests and treatments – an approach known as precision medicine – and will increasingly guide more and more aspects of daily life such as nutrition. Right now, there is a heavy skew in the understanding of the genetics underpinning different populations and diseases. Around 80% of the existing genomic data that is used to inform the development of precision tests and treatments have been gathered from people with European or Caucasian ancestry. This means that most of the world’s population could be missing out on vital healthcare innovations. We founded Global Gene Corp to address what we believe is the most important challenge to delivering effective precision healthcare to a global market and impact the lives of over 7.5 billion people: addressing the lack of diversity in the genomic datasets to enable the realisation of the promise of genomics.
Why Global Gene Corp?
Sumit Jamuar: We are a mission-driven organisation founded by scientists, clinicians, business and industry experts of global repute who share the same passion – to solve the problem of genomic data bias and use genomics to drive healthy and long lives for everyone, wherever they live and wherever they come from. Since forming in 2013, we have been a contributor and leading advocate for solving the genomic data bias, building unique insights into populations and diseases, and growing technology-driven capability to execute large-scale, ambitious objectives.
What’s needed to deliver on the promise of precision medicine?
Sumit Jamuar: We need an understanding of what a ‘typical’ reference genome looks like for every population, and a deeper knowledge of how personal and population-level gene variants affect health and disease. To do this, we need to have a representative database and insights that represent the richness and diversity of humanity. Around US$200bn is spent on pharmaceutical research and development worldwide every year. It costs around US$2 billion to develop a single new drug, taking 10-15 years, fewer than one in every 10 candidates (8%) never make it to the end of the journey. Treatments that seem promising in animals or cells in the lab often fail when faced with the reality of human populations. When we add genomic data, the average cost of development halves to about $1bn, the time to market can be reduced three- to four-fold (3-4 years) and the chances of success jump to around one in four (26%) – a three-fold improvement. We urgently need to increase the diversity in genomic databases and use this information to develop insights for precision medicine that are tailored to specific people and their populations based on their genetic makeup.
What are the challenges for achieving this vision?
Sumit Jamuar: The biggest hurdle is gathering representative data from many more people in an ethical and scientifically robust way to capture the richness of humanity. At Global Gene Corp, we’re addressing this by creating partnerships all over the world, with a focus on Africa, India and the Middle East. It is heartening to note that this lack of genomic diversity and how it is critically limiting achieving the promise of genomics is finally starting to be recognized and highlighted in the academic and pharmaceutical sectors, with a number of recent publications in high-profile journals such as Nature and Cell addressing the issues.
How long will it take before we will have fully implemented precision medicine?
Sumit Jamuar: We believe that the genomics revolution is in the same stage as the internet revolution in the mid-1990s. The direction of travel and the profound impact genomics will have on our lives is very clear. Some aspects of precision medicine are already here with a handful of lifesaving drugs in for some cancer and rare diseases. For example, there’s an ever-growing catalogue of targeted therapies for cancer based on the presence of particular driver mutations, genome-based diagnosis for rare diseases. We are also seeing the increasing use of pharmacogenomic data to figure out whether a particular drug or dosage is suitable for an individual patient, such as through our ggcMETM app. This is being trialed in health systems right now and was featured in a recent peer-reviewed publication in NPJ – Genomic Medicine.
What do you mean by democratizing healthcare?
Sumit Jamuar: We believe that the benefits of the revolution in healthcare should be available to all. We also believe that access to affordable, cutting edge healthcare is a fundamental right. We want to bring the benefits of precision healthcare to everyone, wherever they live and wherever they come from.
What do you mean by global genome?
Sumit Jamuar: When it first started, The Human Genome Project was based data from a handful of people with majority European ancestry. Today we know that there is incredible genetic variation all over the world, and that this impacts on health. Now the scientific community has started considering the human genome not as a fixed ‘gold standard’ but instead see it as an evolving global genome, full of variations that should be taken into account when developing diagnostics and therapies.
Are there any projects you can highlight to showcase how you are company is working to solve genomic data bias?
Sumit Jamuar: We’re working on large-scale program with a range of partners around the world to collect and analyze diverse genomic and medical datasets, using patent-pending algorithms to provide unique insights and technology platforms for healthcare providers, pharmaceutical companies and more. For example, we’re working with support from the Indian government agency Invest India to deliver the largest DNA sequencing program for the Indian population. We’re also collaborating with the University of Namibia and the Namibian Ministry of Higher Education, Training and Innovation to bring genomic research to the country, improving precision medicine and building local capacity and expertise in this fast-growing field.
Last year you announced the largest genomics programme for the Indian population. Why India?
Sumit Jamuar: The Indian subcontinent contains over 1.5 billion people, plus the millions of people with Indian ancestry spread around the world. It accounts for over 20% of the global population and has more than 4,000 ethnicities, making this region one of the most ethnically diverse and scientifically interesting countries in the world, yet it contributes less than 2% of current genomic datasets. We know from our own data that there are specific genetic variations in the Indian population with major implications for health and disease that are currently ignored by precision medicine programs focused on European ancestry populations. In our work so far, we have built insights into and discovered novel variants that have never been seen on a global scale. Understanding more about the impact of regional genetic variations on the function of potential drugs – or identifying population-specific targets – could create more effective tests and treatments for millions of people and open up a new market for precision medicine in the subcontinent. One example is the discovery of cholesterol-lowering drugs based on PCSK9 inhibitors, which came out of genetic studies of the relatively homogenous Icelandic population. Imagine what insights we can create to solve for a variety of diseases from the over 4000 ethnicities in the Indian sub-continent.
Is there specific news you can share with us that is interesting for the global healthcare innovation community to know?
Sumit Jamuar: We are continuing to build relationships with academic and commercial partners across the world, including research collaborations on gene therapy, longevity, rare disorders and cancer. We’re excited to be working with leading global institutions to advance the personalized medicine agenda, combining their leading-edge innovative precision medicine programs with our expertise and representation for the global populations. We’re also thrilled to be rolling out our personal pharmacogenomics app, ggcMETM, across India. This will integrate into our genomic research and enable more than a billion people to leapfrog into the healthcare of the future.
What’s your vision on the future of genomics?
Sumit Jamuar: We believe that precision medicine and digital health will allow people all over the world to leapfrog into the future. We look to the way that countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America are using mobile technology across all aspects of life, including decentralized remote healthcare, and we anticipate that digital technology will bring forward a day when everyone has access to and will be in control of their health informed by their genome.
What’s your moonshot?
Sumit Jamuar: We want to democratise healthcare for the 7.5 billion people on the planet through genomics and technology. Providing more tailored healthcare solutions for a diverse, growing global population has the potential to transform health on a grand scale. Ultimately, we would like to change health opportunities for every person on the planet, wherever they live and wherever they come from.