Policy issues around the use of biomarkers in health care

28 November 2011

The OECD has issued a new report examining policy issues surrounding the development and use of biomarkers in health, which it says ‘may improve patient welfare by delivering better health outcomes’ in the long-term.
It considers the different environments in which biomarkers are being development, the potential applications in health care (as tools for prediction, diagnosis and management of disease, as well as to improve the safety and efficacy of medicines) and the potential barriers to discovery, commercialisation and clinical uptake.
The report, which draws on strongly on previous work in on the evaluation of biomarkers led by the PHG Foundation, has six key conclusions:
  1. Long-term investments are needed to facilitate discovery and development.
  2. Creation of an evidence base for biomarker evaluation is crucial. 
  3. Regulation and reimbursement processes must be adapted to accommodate biomarker-based clinical tests.
  4. New incentives may be required for the development of clinically useful biomarkers.
  5. Integration of bioinformatics, genomic and other technologies is needed to boost development of biomarker-based diagnostics.
  6. Knowledge networks to improve communication about biomarkers are needed, especially between clinicians and patients.

Comment: The report highlights specific areas where it proposes that policy development can specifically support biomarker development and use in health systems. This sort of work can make a significant difference to our ability to capitalise on the science that drives biomarker discovery, in terms of improved health care. But who will fund such activities? Concerted action from multiple stakeholders including governments, health services, patient groups and charities is needed.

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