Pharmacogenomics may be an unfamiliar term to many Americans in 2012, but we’ll be hearing it often over the next few years. Simply put, it means “personalized medicine,” using genetic testing.
Dr. Steven Lott ’90, head of next generation sequencing clinical implementation for Life Technologies Corp., explains the concept this way:
“Medicine always has been as much an art as a science,” Lott says. “Our bodies have different genetic properties. We experience disease as individuals, and we react to treatment as individuals. Medications that work well for one person will cause an adverse reaction in someone else.
“Because of advances in third-generation microchips, we can now use mathematics-focused technology to begin unraveling genetic codes more quickly and cost-effectively,” he says. “In the next 10 to 12 years, physicians will be able to look at the course of individual illness as a predictable matter. They will treat it using the regimens and pharmaceuticals that offer the best odds for good results, one patient at a time. We should be able to avoid trial and error as well as the adverse reactions that now impact 2.2 million people each year.
“Everything is happening so fast— it’s difficult to think of any past technology that can be as transformative in health care.”
Lott recently visited Wofford to speak to students about his career and particularly the paid summer internships that Life Technologies Corp offers. This global, diversified company had sales of $3.7 billion in 2011, employs approximately 10,400 people, has a presence in approximately 160 countries, and possesses one of the largest intellectual property estates in the life sciences industry, with approximately 4,000 patents and exclusive licenses.
Lott is not the only Wofford graduate at Life Technologies. In February 2012, Ronnie Andrews ’81 was named the corporation’s president for medical services. Andrews has more than 25 years of experience in the diagnostics industry, including leadership positions at Abbott Diagnostics and Roche Diagnostics.
Lott told his student audience that he arrived at Wofford thinking of a career in medicine, but at the University of Texas Health Center, he earned a Ph.D. in genetics and established his focus as research. “Motivation is when you walk out of your lab in the research hospital, and you are surrounded by patients who have had the disease that your research has been designed to address, such as breast cancer,” Lott says.
He says that Wofford prepared him well for his career because it provided a rewarding liberal arts experience that helped him develop team-building and communications skills. “I remember my research presentations, and in fact, I still have some of the glass-mounted slides I used here 20 years ago,” Lott says. “But the biggest regret I have about my undergraduate years is that I didn’t feel I could get out of the laboratory long enough to explore other things that the college had to offer, such as history courses and classes in the humanities. Don’t let pre-medicine totally control your life.”