BBI's Dr. Colin Pritchard: “Genomic medicine is not just a set of widgets. Rather, it’s becoming an emerging, and increasing important field of medicine.”
BBI’s Dr. Colin Pritchard believes that to chart the future of precision medicine, one needs to look no further than the development of radiology.
Pritchard, the co-director of the UW Medicine Genetics and Solid Tumors Laboratory and head of BBI’s Precision Diagnostics Platform, noted in a seminar June 27th that the X-ray, invented in 1895, was considered “seminal technology.”
“And five years later, in 1900, it was beginning to be used medically,” he said. “This is very similar to precision medicine, which I refer to as ‘genomic medicine.’”
Pritchard’s remarks were made during an online presentation sponsored by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, in collaboration with UW Medicine and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.
He compares the invention of the X-ray to the 2005 introduction of next-generation sequencing technology, or “NGS,” high throughput technology enabling cost-effective interrogation of the genome for the first time. Pritchard notes that five years later, in 2010, NGS began to be used in clinical settings, and that today, in 2022, genomic medicine is “emerging,” in a way comparable to 1915, when the discipline of radiology was emerging.
“I believe that as we saw the first radiology residencies in the late 1920s, we may well see the first genomic medicine residencies in the 2030s,” he said. “Genomic medicine is not just a set of widgets. Rather, it’s becoming an emerging, and increasing important field of medicine.”
Pritchard is not alone in his thinking.
In March of 2021, then-Director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins co-authored a commentary in the journal Cell on the promise of precision medicine, “Precision medicine in 2030— seven ways to transform healthcare.”
“Today, clinical genomic analysis is typically performed only when evaluating certain cancers or when a rare genetic disease is suspected, and many commonly ordered tests only evaluate a few genetic loci,” Collins and NIH colleague Joshua Denny wrote. “Moving forward, whole genome approaches will become a routine, early step in the understanding, prevention, detection, and treatment of common and rare diseases.”
Evaluating cancer is one of Pritchard’s specialties, and he notes that at UW Medicine there has been a steady – and more recently significant – increase in NGS testing.
“There’s been a rapid rise, from about 5,000 NGS tests overall in our academic labs in 2015 to nearly 20,000 over the course of 2021,” he said. “That said, we still are not doing enough testing. It is increasingly needed to guide cancer treatment and other diseases, as well as to meet the exponential growth in clinical utility, for patient equity, and to enable and expand research.”
One way of expanding that research, Pritchard said, is making OncoPlex tumor genomic data more readily available, thanks to a BBI pilot grant in 2021. Other researchers working on this project include BBI members Drs. Alice Berger at Fred Hutch, Sara Leary at Seattle Children’s Hospital, and Jonathan Reichel at UW Medicine.
“Our rationale is to ‘go big’ with this testing,” he said. “And the reasons are many, including positioning BBI and its partnering institutions for the future of genomic medicine.”