A recent SAP event dedicated to personalized or precision medicine showed that the focus in medical diagnostics, prevention, and treatment is increasingly shifting toward the patient and his genetic profile – thanks in part to SAP technology.

Some years ago, a museum used an interactive questionnaire to reveal to its exhibition visitors just how unique they were. After answering just a few questions about eye color, hair color, or the ability to roll their tongue, every new visitor was compared with all the previous visitors. It soon became clear that each person wasn’t just a face in a crowd of thousands, but a unique individual with a specific combination of characteristics.

What this simple example illustrates can now even be utilized in the field of medicine, thanks to the decoding of the human genome and state-of-the-art sequencing, known as “next-generation sequencing.” Because, as the analysis of the genetic parameters of a single patient shows, every illness is as unique and as individual as patients themselves.

The company Molecular Health GmbH, headquartered in Heidelberg, Germany, is making advances in healthcare on the basis of this fact. In cooperation with SAP and clinical institutes, Molecular Health has developed a “Treatment Decision Support Software” that enables highly targeted tumor treatment for cancer patients. The solution is also being used in the SAP pilot program COPE (Corporate Oncology Program for Employees), where employees affected by cancer are granted a free genetic tumor analysis and evaluation.

At an event held on the subject of personalized medicine, Dr. Alexander Picker and Dr. Rudolf Caspary from Molecular Health, as well as Michael Schaper (SAP P&I Personalized Medicine) and Sabine Patsch (SAP Global Health Management) presented the joint project and the progress that has been made to date.

Fighting Cancer with SAP HANA

SAP has been developing software for the healthcare sector for more than 20 years, as Michael Schaper, vice president P&I Industry Cloud – Healthcare, explains. For a long time, however, the emphasis was more on administration. Only in the past few years has SAP increasingly turned its attention to medical applications.

A growing flood of complex information that’s too much for an individual physician to distill coupled with the rocketing cost of providing healthcare to an aging population mean that there’s an urgent need for solutions. Simplified, more affordable analysis methods and technical advancements are opening new possibilities. “The opportunities that modern technology offers are endless,” says Schaper.

Ever-improving data analysis, greater exchange of information between experts, and better dialog with increasingly empowered patients are now high on the medical agenda. SAP Foundation for Health, which is powered by SAP HANA, strives to unite these aspects. It enables medical professionals to access a world of information while at the same time preventing data loss due to gaps between disparate systems. Patient data can then be gathered centrally and assigned to precise categories.

SAP, customers and partners can use interfaces to build their own applications that sit on the top level of the platform, such as the award-winning SAP Medical Research Insights application for patient management and SAP’s diabetes app. Almost any kind of healthcare application is conceivable, such as an app for people with multiple sclerosis, whereby patients’ health could be monitored remotely on a daily basis in between doctor’s appointments, enabling fast intervention when problems arise as well as a more targeted medication. So far, the doctor’s appointments have to suffice for this purpose. In the future, patients might even be able to manage their own medical records on mobile devices.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) is already using SAP Foundation for Health as part of their CacerLinQ initiative, thus making advances in the war against cancer with the help of SAP HANA. This is also true of the collaboration with Molecular Health, where individual tumor analysis with their software, supported by SAP HANA, should result in more targeted and safe treatment options. “Many tumor therapies could be made more efficient by applying genetic tumor analysis,” Dr. Alexander Picker estimates.

Many Tumor Therapies are Not Efficient Enough

Picker believes that the main reason for this is the fact that physicians prescribe therapy for their cancer patients based on average values. But the disease is too complex and the differences between patients too significant for such an approach, causing some therapies to be less effective than expected. This state of affairs motivated Molecular Health to design a software solution that can sequence patients’ DNA and bring together a wealth of health-related data. Physicians can then see exactly what genetic mutations and interactions exist that could make certain medicines ineffective or even harmful. Treatment is targeted right from the start, as the terms precision and personalized medicine indicate.

Dr. Rudolf Caspary explains that, in a first step, healthy and diseased cells are genetically analyzed – a procedure that requires a huge amount of computing power and, despite a processing speed of 500 MB per second, takes six days. A subsequent comparison of healthy and diseased cells provides clues about potential mutations. With the help of SAP HANA as part of Molecular Health’s software, the results can then be matched automatically with all currently globally available biomedical data. The results are subsequently interpreted and processed so a regular physician can apply them. This leads to a bigger picture that reveals which treatments have been successful in the past and could be applied to the patient in question, and which not. This approach significantly trumps the current procedure of merely applying a small range of generic parameters based on statistics to a patient. The software enables a certified physician to condense these results – enriched with other health data – into a medical report that finally suggests a specific individual treatment.

Ultimately, the effective combination of technology, medicine, and the personal commitment of institutes and companies, such as Molecular Health and SAP, are driving a development that puts the patient more and more at the center of medical treatment. Given the well-founded hope that this leads to better chances of survival or even healing, this method can only be embraced.