Precision medicine

What is precision medicine?

Precision medicine is an integrated approach, using both analytical and clinical data to improve clinical care by increasing precision in the understanding of the mechanisms of disease and drug response.

How is precision medicine different?

In the past, patients with a disease have been given a standardised treatment plan that does not recognise the considerable differences between patients with the same broad diagnostic label. The University of Exeter Medical School takes a precision medicine approach, which takes into account the great diversity between patients and plans to replace the past "one size fits all" approach with more individualised treatment.

It is vital that care can be targeted to give the best possible outcome for the individual patient. New technology, such as genetic sequencing, gives better evidence than ever before, but this cannot be examined in isolation. All available evidence must be taken into account to optimise the outcome for the patient.

Which diseases is precision medicine relevant to?

The precision approach is appropriate to all branches of medicine. Initial studies will be based on the diseases where there is specific expertise in Exeter such as diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and vascular disease.

Case study: A mother's story

Nurse Emma Matthews believed her five-year-old son, Jack Neighbour, would not survive beyond his sixth birthday, because his health was so volatile. He had never spoken a word, and communicated with his family through picture cards.

It all changed when analysis by the team at the University of Exeter Medical School pinpointed the genetic misprint which caused his neonatal diabetes.

Just six weeks later after switching treatment, he delighted his family by uttering his first words: the simple phrase "hello, mummy".

Read more

Key principles of precision medicine

The main information used for classification and treatment must be:

  • From all available sources about the patient: Information may include genetic or other sophisticated analytical methods but is not confined to these. Simple clinical factors like disease duration, susceptibility to disease or how a patient’s weight can alter treatment response.
  • Continuous: Information should use quantitative measurement as these give far more information than dichotomised values – eg give the BMI rather than describing as “obese” or “non obese”.
  • Integrated: Data from every available source must be analysed together to provide an overall guidance as to the likely treatment response.

Case study: Helping GPs to detect cancer earlier

In cases of cancer, earlier more precise diagnosis is one of the best ways to improve chances of survival. The DISCOVERY team at the University of Exeter, led by Professor Willie Hamilton, is creating a toolkit to enable GPs and other frontline health professionals to detect cancer cases more quickly, leading to earlier treatment. Read more

About us

Exeter's precision medicine approach brings together a large group of researchers who are working towards improving patients’ classification and diagnosis, which will enable more precise, targeted treatment.

A key element of precision medicine is the close relationship between researchers and clinicians, which ensures that research is directly targeted to clinical need.

Many of the researchers in precision medicine are based in the Research, Innovation, Learning and Development (RILD) building, a partnership between the University of Exeter Medical School and the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust. Other researchers working on the approach are based at the Medical School’s St Luke’s Campus and Truro Campus.

Professor Andrew Hattersley has been appointed Gillings Chair in Precision Medicine. Precision medicine is supported by a generous £1 million donation to the Medical School by the ‘Gillings Family Foundation’ through the trusteeship of Dr. Dennis and Dr. Mireille Gillings. Dr Dennis Gillings, CBE, Hon DSc is an Exeter alumnus and founder of global biopharmaceutical services company Quintiles. Dr. Mireille Gillings is President, CEO, & Executive Chairman of HUYA Bioscience International. She founded HUYA in 2004 and has grown this privately-held company to become the global leader in accelerating the co-development of novel biopharmaceutical product opportunities originating in China.