By Carin Smand

Translating the basic science of genomics into medical innovation in the form of personalised medicines requires a high level of interchange between healthcare professionals and the industry. It is critical that these relationships are based on trust and a mutual understanding, says Carin Smand, Managing Director of the European Haematology Association

It is easy to talk about the potential of genomics to transform healthcare and deliver targeted, personalised care. But bringing the science into a clinical reality is a hard and complex task. How is a doctor to interpret an individual DNA sequence at the point of consultation? How will profiling the mutations in a tumour help in treating cancer?

The answer of course, is that these discoveries in basic science can only be translated into new and better treatments if there is collaboration and interchange across the chain, from genome sequence, to prescribing a targeted therapy.

“Collaboration is very important indeed. It has always been important, but there is an even greater need now,” says Carin Smand, Managing Director of the European Haematology Association.

Smand speaks from the standpoint of haematology being one of the leading fields in the deployment of personalised medicine, in particular in the adoption of targeted drugs for treating leukaemia.

But she is concerned that in a world where collaboration is increasingly essential there is a danger of trust breaking down, both because the industry and healthcare professionals have different views of what transparency should mean, and because the general public does not have the context to interpret records of transfers of value from pharmaceutical companies to healthcare professionals with all its possibilities and limitations.

“There are differences in interpretation of the guidelines that apply to collaboration, with different terms used. And at the same time, how many of the general public understand what an Advisory Board is?” Smand said.

A registry which numbers the advisory board meetings or medical conferences a doctor attended, is not truly transparent, Smand believes. “It’s not useful information. You are not telling anyone why the relationship is important, why it is essential that clinicians participate in e.g. advisory board meetings and the guidelines applicable to these activities.

There need to be European-level guidelines that are applicable to specific tasks in the chain of collaboration. The Alliance for Biomedical Research, a body representing 21 of Europe’s leading biomedical societies, is currently working to draw up some guidelines, and will put them to the Alliance’s Annual General Meeting in November, for debate and discussion.

Smand said it will be important to include EFPIA’s view of what is important about the relationship from the industry’s perspective.

“The main point is: don’t go out on your own. Consult with others and make sure everyone has a clear understanding of what is needed to support collaboration, working according to the guidelines,” said Smand.

“It is really important to build understanding and trust. Collaboration is crucial to personalised medicine; it must be regulated, not blocked. ,” she concluded.

Carin Smand is the Managing Director of the European Hematology Association (EHA), a nonprofit organization founded in 1992, promoting excellence in research, education and patient care in hematology.

She previously worked for 11 years for the Dutch Health Care Insurance Board as policy maker and Secretary of various medical specialty committees, and advising the Minister of Health on the public health care insurance system in The Netherlands. After that she worked as manager organ and tissue donation for the Dutch Transplant Foundation.

Ms. Smand studied Health Sciences (policy and strategy) at the University of Maastricht and Business Economics at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences.