Anschutz Medical Campus leaders key experts in first week of Aspen Ideas Festival

By Chris Casey | University Communications

ASPEN—While the Anschutz Medical Campus and other research institutions are on the “cusp of revolutionizing medical care,” health officials worry that current momentum could be jeopardized by the high cost of personalized medicine.

The difficult task of cultivating sufficient funds to further advance research dominated the discussion at a roundtable on personalized medicine led by Dr. David Schwartz, MD, chairman of the Department of Medicine, University of Colorado School of Medicine. The luncheon, which also included Lilly Marks (left), CU vice president for health affairs and executive vice chancellor of the Anschutz Medical Campus; Don Elliman, chancellor of the University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus; and Dr. Richard Krugman, MD, dean of the CU School of Medicine, took place last week as part of the Spotlight: Health segment of the prestigious Aspen Ideas Festival.

About 20 of the nation’s top leaders on the subject of personalized care joined in the discussion. The gathering frequently sought out the opinions of Anschutz Medical Campus officials—testament to the influence and leadership of the research powerhouse in Aurora.

Marks said the Anschutz Medical Campus is one of “only a handful of institutions in the country” with the expertise and resources to lead in the area of targeted therapies. “We’re talking about tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in the bioinformatics infrastructure, in the analytics, in the talent to do this,” she said. “The question becomes, ‘How do those institutions make that investment and recapture it?’ It’s a big issue of cost.”

The funding problem is complicated by the fact that National Institutes of Health funding for basic discovery has been flat in recent years. Meanwhile, when it comes to applying these new therapies, Marks said, some of the major insurance companies are denying coverage for many genetic tests, claiming they are investigational. “We’re really on the cusp of revolutionizing medical care in a way that’s no longer solely denominated by disease diagnosis, but really focused precisely on the genetic molecular profiles of a single individual. And we’re providing targeted therapies that will, I think, over time prove their effectiveness and be cost effective,” she said.

Aspen Ideas Fest

The Anschutz Medical Campus is a sponsor of the 2014 Aspen Ideas Festival. Leading physicians and scholars from CU Anschutz share their insights and research with the festival’s 3,500-plus attendees from June 24-July 3.

The high-profile forum of The Aspen Ideas Festival, especially the three-day Spotlight: Health, offers an ideal platform on which to raise the profile of the Anschutz Medical Campus.

“The festival takes place in Aspen, our own backyard, and attracts attendees from around the country and the world,” said Leanna Clark, vice chancellor of University Communications. “The Spotlight: Health focus ensures that we are getting the Anschutz Medical Campus brand in front of the foremost academics, policy makers, practitioners, industry executives, philanthropists and concerned citizens, and engaging them in the conversation to transform health and health care.”

Given the growing evidence in favor of personalized medicine, Marks posed this question to the group: “So who’s going to fund basic medical discovery?”

Schwartz outlined four priorities for further advancement in personalized medicine:

  • Integrating clinical medicine with the research enterprise to create a continuum of science.
  • Training the next generation of physicians, who will need to take multi-dimensional approaches to patient care.
  • Cost of care. Who will assume the burden? Schwartz pointed out that 10 years ago it cost $3 billion to sequence an individual human genome; today it costs just $1,000.
  • Culture change. Important to educate patients and their families about all facets, including ethical issues, of targeted therapies.

Schwartz (right) said the Anschutz Medical Campus is in the process of developing an advisory board to focus on personalized medicine. “It would help us figure out how to move forward ethically, programmatically, socially, politically,” he said. “It would allow us to interface with the patients in a more meaningful way. We want to interface appropriately with the patients and the public, and address ethical and cultural issues.”

Also, the Anschutz Medical Campus is creating the Center for Biomedical Informatics and Personalized Medicine containing a Clinical and Research Enterprise Data Warehouse.

Marks pointed out that, despite the costs involved with personalized medicine and research, it’s essential to continue to invest in new technologies instead of giving in to the trend of commoditized health care. The Anschutz Medical Campus has made personalized medicine an institutional priority, she said, “because we have such a strong belief in it.”

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