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Leveling the Health-Care Playing Field through Emerging Technology

Power of Ideas
Leveling the Health-Care Playing Field through Emerging Technology

Many of today’s global challenges stem from inequality of access: to education; to gainful employment; to resources such as food, water, shelter, or energy; or to life-saving health care. As a scientist, investor, and health-care entrepreneur, I think about the potential of science and technology to reshape the current fabric of society, including giving new opportunities to those who face restricted access on the basis of gender, race, or economic status.

Emerging technologies can be like a newly formed river, gushing with fresh ideas and hope for a bright future. Over time, what once was new becomes the status quo. That same powerful river can carve a steep and divisive canyon. Instead of providing equitable access and opportunities, it etches disparities into the very landscape of our institutions.

For example, picture a 62-year-old mother of two and a soon-to-be grandmother. She starts to experience coughing and chest pain, and consults her primary care physician. As she goes through the diagnosis process, she waits for appointments, for referral after referral, for a CT scan, for a tissue biopsy, and for answers. Almost five months pass before she receives the solemn news of lung cancer. She initiates treatment, but it is too little, too late.

Emerging technologies can bypass legacy infrastructure and bring opportunities to those who face inequalities.

Her story is a reflection of the harsh reality faced by many. The average life expectancy of a recently diagnosed advanced lung cancer patient is 11 months. Half of her anticipated life span was in anxious waiting. This can happen to anyone, anywhere: in wealthy and impoverished nations alike. I continue to see a wide gap between the recommended care and the realities of clinical practice.

Liquid biopsies are key to closing that gap between guidelines and clinical practice. The industry can replace the need for invasive biopsies and provide critical data to health-care providers.

I co-founded Guardant Health more than 10 years ago to pioneer the use of liquid biopsies. Using advanced biochemistry and AI, our tests detect DNA trace fragments from tumors within the bloodstream. A large percentage of US cancer patients use these tests, and these tests revolutionized the oncology field. This can include early cancer detection with sequencing technology and machine learning.

With these advancements, how can liquid biopsies close the access gap and leave no patient behind?

Partnerships between public and private entities are a critical component to closing the access gap. In 2023, we partnered with The Royal Marsden, a leading public cancer hospital in the UK, to bring our tests to their laboratory. Following that partnership, the National Health Service (NHS) England initiated a pilot to address the broader national gaps in cancer care. This UK pilot demonstrated that lung cancer could be profiled within days, versus the average waiting time of 120 days. The NHS is now expected to roll out a larger program for lung cancer patients in the UK.

This is only the beginning. We're exploring similar public-private partnerships in other countries. It is a model that can leapfrog outdated health-care delivery infrastructure for better care for patients.

Like newly formed rivers, emerging technologies can bypass legacy infrastructure and bring new opportunities to those who face gender, race, and wealth inequalities. When private and public sectors work together, we can address these inequities and bring a greater good to their citizenry. And this can span outside of the health-care sector. Finance, agriculture, energy production, and artificial intelligence all have the power to level the playing field and raise the median welfare of nations.