April 27, 2023

An Exclusive Interview with Dr. Walid Qoronfleh, PhD, MBA

Meet Dr. Walid Qoronfleh, Ph.D., MBA, who is currently the Executive Director of the US-based non-profit Q3CG Research Institute (QRI) and a Senior Director at 21HealthStreet, London.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your association with precision medicine?

I graduated from the School of Medicine at the University of Louisville in Kentucky and completed my MBA from Penn State University. During the initial phase of my career, I worked with pharma companies such as GSK and Sanofi in drug discovery and development, driving specific therapies in the areas of cancer inflammation with my proteomic background. It was during this time that I realized the need for individualized or precision medicine (PM).

Why precision medicine? What are the biggest opportunities it brings to the healthcare sector and to patients versus more traditional treatments?

As much as there are opportunities that PM brings, there are challenges within the opportunities. Reflecting on the work done in this area, I would like to group these opportunities or benefits into three categories:

(1) Benefits at the patient level - PM is driving earlier diagnosis in disease and patient management. It also provides options in therapy and risk assessment or the safety profile of a drug, which translates into better decisions for the clinician, leading to better patient outcomes.

(2) Benefits at the population level – PM has been a key driver at a population level in terms of being incorporated within the national healthcare strategy and policy, which has an impact on public health. Public health brings a tremendous opportunity for precision healthcare and precision public health. There is no better example that has demonstrated this other than COVID-19 itself, from the way it spread, the way people responded to it and the way it brought the scientific research and public health communities together. It brought better opportunities for pathogen identification and monitoring.

(3) Benefits at the health system level – PM has been a driver for helping manage data of the healthcare system. There is tremendous value that we can harvest from such data and use for the benefit at a patient and population level. In this regard, the decisions made in healthcare at a system level are more accurate as they are evidence-based and there is effective intervention. Ultimately, at the healthcare system level PM this can help the quality of treatment and make it more value-based from an economic standpoint.

Precision Medicine can help decrease the mortality rate attributed to cancer. Is it also effective for other diseases or afflictions?

When you look at PM, the strongest impact made has been in the areas of oncology and cancer, but has also made an obvious difference in the diagnosis of genetic rare diseases, pharmacogenomics, and the area of pathogen identification and monitoring. Clinical genomics or next generation sequencing is key and gradually being adopted by hospitals. For Alzheimer’s Disease, currently available treatments are 70% ineffective, arthritis is 50% ineffective, diabetes is 43%, asthma 38% and anti-depressants are 38% ineffective. If one understands the profile of diseases, and is able to ‘decode the biology’ and how a tailored treatment can be effective or ineffective and the associated risks (such as side effects) then one can now really view the impact of PM and appreciate its value and influence in a variety of disease and therapeutic areas, both in terms of the patient and the healthcare system.

What role do you see artificial intelligence (AI) playing in precision medicine?

This is an extremely important topic. PM is data intensive, especially when you start layering several of the omics platform technology’s data about a patient or a population, whether it is genomics or proteomics or metabolomics. You can see the growth of the data in three vectors, i.e., the volume of the data, the nature and the relationships between the data, and the storage capacity needed to sort this kind of data to utilise it efficiently and effectively, such as in facilitating electronic health record data.

There is a power in data and there is a need to keep it right, which is a challenge. AI provides better diagnostic capability and significantly aids in the areas of drug discovery and drug development. It is influencing medical devices and we all know apps which are recognized as therapy tools for various diseases, recognized by the FDA in the USA.

The future is AI. It will inevitably help us decode biologies to understand diseases better and provide better treatment and care.

What are the challenges faced when adopting precision medicine treatments and therapies?

Whilst we are rapidly advancing in the field of precision medicine, there are challenges to consider. Firstly, the importance of effective regulation in PM is a challenge. There is a lag in policy development and patient- centricity. As PM requires a strong infrastructure with its data and AI requirements, many healthcare professionals argue about the value. Secondly, PM has effectively lead to patient engagement and patient empowerment with tailored treatment, however the healthcare system still lacks expertise; the continued education of healthcare providers, professionals and workforce is critical.

PM has many stakeholders that go beyond the patient and the healthcare system. There must be a stronger level of engagement and commitment in order to make PM accessible and at par with developed nations.

Interested to hear more?

Attend the PrecisionMed Conference and listen to Dr. Walid Qoronfleh
Day 1, 23 May 2023
14:00 - 14:30
Keynote Speech: Precision Medicine and AI: Trends & Challenges Relevant to Patient-Centered Care