Third Rock's Levin calls for teamwork in personalized medicine

For Third Rock Ventures' Mark Levin, personalized medicine is nothing new. Instead, he sees the history of pharma as a gradual homing in on the roots of disease, and genomic mapping is just the next step.

From the herbal remedies of early civilizations to the dawn of modern pharmaceuticals, researchers have been slowly drilling down, Levin said, personalizing treatments one step at a time. Now, with the help of sequencing, we can move beyond treating phenotypic effects and get to the heart of disease: its genotypic origins. That is, if we can all get along.

Levin spoke to a packed house Tuesday at the Personalized Medicine Coalition's State of Personalized Medicine Luncheon in Washington, D.C., and his message was simple: Personalized medicine has the potential to revolutionize biotech and pharma, but only if stakeholders work together.

Levin's had a long career in the industry, going from an engineer and project leader at Eli Lilly ($LLY) and Genentech to CEO of Millennium Pharmaceuticals. Since 2007, he's been at the helm of Third Rock Ventures, a VC firm that invests in and builds innovative biotech companies. Through 36 years in the field, Levin said he's seen the great promise of genomics inspire minds around the industry, only to be slowed by the usual suspects: companies unwilling to collaborate, regulators reluctant to cooperate and researchers getting a little ahead of themselves in the news media.

Now, however, as the cost of sequencing an entire genome has dropped to about $5,000 and research into biomarkers has accelerated, the time is right to delve fully into personalized medicine, Levin said. But there's one big barrier: business as usual.

"We need to get beyond ourselves," Levin said. "At times, we're too focused on making the dollar. There are huge opportunities that we're dramatically slowing down." His solution is simple; pharmas, payers, regulators and hospitals need to unite and simplify the system. Personalized medicine faces challenges in funding, regulation and implementation, and the only way the field can reach its potential is if all the stakeholders band together to get it there.

"The world of personalized medicine is moving quickly," he said. "Let's work together and see if we can't make it even grander." -- Damian Garde (Twitter | email)