Return on Investment

A new report details the effect of investing in the Human Genome Project on the economy.

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Did the report account for

Did the report account for how much of that revenue, and those jobs and salaries is just recycled tax dollars? Grant money paying felonious profiteering prices for boxes and reagents that only cost that much in the first place because the people buying them were spending my (taxpayer) money and not their own? And how the commercial and medial "value" of these breakthroughs is so expensive that neither CMS nor private insurance, nor even Obamacare can possible hopy to pay for them; which along with skyrocketing insurance premiums and the other direct and indirect cost of deploying the technology are literally strangling the US economy and accelerating movement of all the revenue generating economy overseas and leaving only the consumption economy in the United States.

Kudos, Biotreker! Quite

Kudos, Biotreker! Quite aside from public money representation in the gene-pot, pharma has invested hundreds of billions of dollars in failed models of disease, models growing out of our preoccupation with simplistic views of human biology. Biotech investors, likewise, account for their portion of the cited "revenues."

Very little of monies represented in this misleading figure came from production of goods and services.

Unfortunately we continue to throw good money after bad.

The timing of the production

The timing of the production of this report is coincident with the reduction of NIH research funding through the sequestration, and it was largely funded by a diverse number of academic institutions and some companies that have a vested interest in continued support for genomics-based research under the umbrella organization United for Medical Research.

A major problem with the original 2011 study, which is recapitulated in the recent update, is that it blurs the economic benefits from the formal Human Genome Sequencing (HGS) Project with the independent genomics-based research that was underway before, during and since its formal inception and completion. For example, most of the G protein-coupled receptor and protein kinase targets used by the pharmaceutical industry for drug discovery and development were independently identified and sequenced from the government-subsidized genome sequencing programs. These are the two largest families of drug targets researched by academia and pursued by industry even now.

One of the measures of the impact of genome sequencing offered in the latest update to the Battelle Report is the recent private sector employment in the genomics-enabled U.S. Industry. In the table provided, it is clearly evident that there has been essentially no growth in employment in any of the various genomics sectors in the last 5 years. This was the only table offered that documented any recent trends, although one of the major conclusions of the study was that “the broad and functional impacts of the human genome sequencing are just beginning to be realized.”

While the HGS Project clearly spurred a dramatic reduction in the costs of DNA sequencing, this has not resulted in any substantial declines in the costs of proteomics-based analyses nor much further insights into the roles and functions of the approximately 22,000 proteins encoded by about 2.5% of the human genome. More than a decade after the completion of the sequencing of the human genome, we still know little about 40% of the human proteins besides their gene sequence and where they are expressed in diverse cells, tissues and organs. Sequencing genomes faster and cheaper is not really translating into diagnosing and treating diseases any quicker, less expensively nor more effectively. This just will not happen unless there are parallel investments in other types of “omics” research, nanotechnology and pharmaceutical drug development.

In estimating the economic impact of the genomics revolution, it is important to also consider the lost opportunity in other areas of biomedical research that were underfunded and could have been more productive in managing and reducing human disease and driven biotechnology in other fruitful directions. Presumably, no fewer jobs would have been created. It would seem that the major benefactors of the HGS Project were really the companies that supplied the equipment and reagents to support DNA sequencing efforts. To sustain such a profitable industry, a significant portion of research dollars is now expended in sequencing the genomes from as many diverse species as feasible and from the largest numbers of people possible. Unfortunately, it will be a long time before such DNA sequencing efforts can provide meaningful data in the absence of knowledge about the proteins that encode, including their regulation, interactions and functions.

Despite all of the hype, personalized genome sequencing is still not really a commercial activity. A small number of companies are offering SNP chip analyses of a tiny subset of human mutations that in most cases provide general statistics about disease risks that apply to populations and not individuals. Except in only a tiny number of cases, thus far it is not evident that this type of information provided to consumers has any significant impacts on morbidity and mortality. The odd instance when genome sequencing has yielded some real insight, it is highly publicized, probably because it is so rare.

Looking from far away country

Looking from far away country like India, the HGS investments in terms of NGS technologies look very promising not only for US but the rest of the world too. It is myopic to judge the success of the project from a narrow perspective of personalised medicine. The impact of NGS in understanding microbial systems or plants and animal systems is enormous. The "hype" has now been well understood but the "hope" is not lost. I doubt whether US would have been better off spending those 14.5 billion dollars differently, that too over a period of 24 years. As S Pelech rightly suggested it is right time to invest in other types "omics" research, building upon the genomics foundation.