— The idea that the massive amounts of unstructured data about humans—such as their genes, clinical test results, and biometrics from wearable devices—will soon revolutionize medical science is extremely appealing. Where are we now in terms of distance from the expected breakthrough?
— We're living in a fascinating era where, despite all the advancements in medical science and the exponential growth in technologies for gathering and processing biomedical data, the cost of developing new drugs continues to soar, reaching hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars for each newly registered medication. The main reason for the high failure rate in expensive clinical trials is the lack of efficacy: new drugs often work well in animal models of human diseases, but fail to do so in humans.
The biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries are seeking ways to solve this problem, trying a variety of approaches. One of the most sensible hypotheses is that research on model organisms has limited value and that it would be better to have the ability to study disease mechanisms in humans.
As fantastical as it may sound, human medical research is becoming a reality. Digital technologies in medicine have led to the existence of hundreds of millions of electronic medical records. Tens of millions of people have been genotyped. This means we can "peek" at the results of the "clinical trials" that nature conducts on us and for us. The fact is, humans are not identical; we differ from each other genetically and, depending on this, when exposed to different medical situations, have significantly different chances of falling ill, healing, or even dying as a result of the development of various diseases. Some mutations in our DNA protect us, and therefore, can be mimicked by new drugs.