Genomics legend foresees revolution in health care

Hood is first speaker in Bioengineering’s systems biology lecture series

Genomics pioneer Leroy Hood predicted that the convergence of four trends — digitalization, big data, systems medicine and consumer-driven social networks — will revolutionize the health care industry within 15 years.

He made the prediction Aug. 29 to an audience of more than 150 attending the Department of Bioengineering’s inaugural Jeffrey Michel Annual Innovations in Systems Biology Lecture at the BioScience Research Collaborative.

Leroy Hood spoke at the BRC Aug. 29.

Hood, a world-renowned scientist and inventor, is president of the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle.

“I think we’ll sharply turn around the escalating cost of health care, and I would argue that if we do it right, we would be able to export systems medicine to the developing world (in a way) that could lead to a democratization of health care that was inconceivable even a few years ago,” Hood said.

Hood’s early advances in automated DNA sequencing and synthesis enabled the Human Genome Project and helped bring high-throughput data accumulation to the field of biology. He is the co-founder of 14 companies — including Amgen and Applied Biosystems — and one of only 15 people to be elected to all three national academies: the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine.

Hood said digital technology is poised to revolutionize health care in much the same way that it has revolutionized personal communications. As devices for measuring one’s personal health and wellness become increasingly inexpensive, each individual will amass an enormous cloud of data about their own health. The power of social networks will enable patients to demand personalized treatments, which the medical profession will be able to provide, thanks to the big data and systems medicine revolutions in clinical trials and clinical practice.

Hood called this new form of medicine “P4,” which stands for predictive, preventive, personalized and participatory.

“P4 medicine is about quantifying wellness and demystifying disease, and it differs from evidence-case medicine in a lot of ways,” he said. “It’s proactive. It’s focused on the individual. It’s focused on wellness. It’s focused on generating for the individual this enormous information cloud that can give you deep insights into optimizing wellness and minimizing disease.”

Hood said P4 medicine will shake up the health care sector by forcing companies to fundamentally change their business models.

“There are going to be a lot of dinosaurs out there that won’t be able to do that, and that will represent an enormous opportunity for innovation and new company creation,” he said. “Systems medicine will create, for people that practice it, really significant wealth.”

Hood’s lecture was the first Jeffrey Michel Annual Innovations in Systems Biology Lecture, a new lecture series sponsored by the Department of Bioengineering and generously funded by Rice alumnus and cardiologist Dr. Jeffrey Michel.


About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.