Breakthroughs range from obesity drugs and diabetes treatment to
potential new therapies for ALS and a future blood test for Alzheimer’s Disease.
Boston, MA. June 14, 2023 — Mass General Brigham today revealed the annual “Disruptive Dozen,” 12 emerging technologies with the greatest potential to impact health care in the next several years. The “Disruptive Dozen” results from interviews of Mass General Brigham senior Harvard faculty and a selection process to identify the 12 most likely to have significant impact on patient care in the next few years.
The Disruptive Dozen is featured at this week’s World Medical Innovation Forum in Boston, where clinical experts, industry leaders and venture investors explored advances in brain health/central nervous system disorders, oncology, and inflammation and immunology. The Forum is presented by Mass General Brigham and Bank of America, two leading organizations with extensive healthcare expertise to advance medical breakthroughs for patients and further Boston’s continued growth as a global biotech and investment hub.
The 2023 Mass General Brigham Disruptive Dozen are:
1. New type 2 diabetes drugs show promise in obesity
New drugs that mimic a hormone that curbs hunger, called GLP-1, are blazing a new trail in weight loss. These drugs, which were first approved for type 2 diabetes, have been shown to help some patients lose more than 15 percent of their starting weight. With a worldwide surge in obesity rates, the drugs could further enable safe, effective weight reduction without the need for invasive measures and possibly help reduce the adverse outcomes linked with obesity. But there are important concerns, too, including the uncertainties associated with long-term use, equity, access, and the potential harms of a society that overemphasizes weight loss.
2. RSV vaccine approaches the clinic
After years of painstaking work, a vaccine that protects against the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is at last within reach. RSV typically causes mild or no illness, but in vulnerable populations, including the very young and the elderly, it can be a serious threat. An early vaccine developed in the 1960s failed tragically: rather than protect against disease, it made the illness worse. Now, armed with decades of knowledge of RSV biology and immunology, scientists have forged a path toward a safe, effective vaccine.
3. Building the next generation of mRNA vaccines
mRNA technology took center stage during the COVID-19 pandemic as it was central to the development of life-saving vaccines, which have proven safe and effective in millions of people worldwide. Now, a new generation of mRNA vaccines is under development, and could advance the treatment of a wide range of diseases, from common respiratory infections to long-standing global scourges to cancer.
4. New therapies for ALS
Two new treatments were recently approved for ALS, bringing the total number of approved drugs to just seven. One involves a pair of drugs that work together in combination to prevent neurons from dying. The other is a gene-based therapy tailored to patients with a rare genetic form of ALS. While the unmet need for ALS therapies remains high, these new therapies signal an important step forward.
5. Harnessing the power of large language models to improve health care
Large language models (LLMs) are a form of artificial intelligence that work by sifting through massive datasets to discern patterns and relationships among words — a process known as training. Once these models are sufficiently trained, they can perform a variety of language-based functions, including recognizing, summarizing, translating, generating, and predicting text. LLMs could have a significant impact in medicine by streamlining and supporting the work of physicians. Two key areas include clinical decision support and administrative workflows — offering information and suggestions at the point of care and reducing the time spent on manual, repetitive tasks.
6. The first “in human” gene editing therapy
One of the first in vivo gene-editing therapies is now in early-stage clinical trials and, if proven safe and effective, could signify a landmark in the history of biopharmaceuticals. The one-time therapy uses a genome editing system, known as CRISPR-Cas9, to make double-stranded cuts in the DNA and repair errors in the genetic code. It targets a disease known as transthyretin amyloidosis (ATTR), which arises when a misfolded protein forms abnormal clumps and damages important tissues and organs, like the nerves and heart.
7. A novel non-hormonal treatment for menopause
Many women experience a range of symptoms during the transition to menopause, including hot flashes, which can be extremely debilitating. Hormone therapy is the most effective current treatment, but some women cannot take it due to health concerns; others choose to avoid it. Now, a novel, non-hormonal drug was recently approved that can reduce the frequency and severity of hot flashes, promising a safe, effective, non-hormonal approach for controlling menopause symptoms.
8. Defining a new era of precision oncology
A new class of bifunctional precision cancer therapies is gaining traction, in which one part of the drug is designed to zero in on tumor cells and the second part delivers a cancer-killing payload while limiting damage to healthy cells and tissues. One approach involves linking tumor-homing molecules to radionuclides, which use radiation to destroy tumor cells. Another uses antibodies coupled to chemotherapy drugs. Together, these therapies are improving outcomes for cancer patients and defining a new era of precision oncology.
9. AI tool predicts lung cancer risk in smokers and non-smokers
Researchers developed an artificial intelligence-based tool that can predict whether patients will develop lung cancer within 6 years. The AI tool, which promises to help close important gaps in lung cancer screening efforts, uses images from low-dose CT scans to accurately predict patients’ future risk of lung cancer for both smokers and non-smokers. Early detection efforts are focused largely on patients with a history of cigarette use. Yet a recent rise in lung cancer among non-smokers suggests a need for new approaches.
10. Protecting retinal cells to preserve vision
The retina is home to specialized neurons that are required for normal vision. Several different conditions cause these neurons to degenerate and die, resulting in impaired vision and eventually blindness. Now, various strategies are underway to develop neuroprotective therapies that can protect these cells from injury and death, thereby preserving vision. These therapies could help patients with a range of retinal diseases, including macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and optic neuropathies.
11. Toward a simple, cost-effective blood test for Alzheimer’s disease
Researchers are working to develop a simple, cost-effective way to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions decades before the onset of physical symptoms — when the course of the disease could potentially be halted or perhaps even reversed. Such a diagnostic test could rapidly accelerate the development of effective treatments for these diseases, and also form a key piece of the puzzle for lowering the future public health burden of Alzheimer’s disease, which is projected to skyrocket by 2050.
12. Slowing the progression of type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is a chronic illness that results when the body’s own immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, destroying the cells and creating a life-long dependence on exogenous insulin. Although insulin replacement is an effective treatment, it is not a cure. A newly approved drug that targets a critical protein on T-cells, deactivating them and thwarting their destruction of insulin-producing cells, has been shown to delay the onset of type 1 diabetes in children and young adults at high risk for the disease.
Mass General Brigham is the nation’s largest academic research enterprise. More than 150 life science and biotechnology companies have been established in Massachusetts as a result of the more than $1 billion in government funded and privately sponsored research that Mass General Brigham attracts every year.
Click here for detailed information on each of the Disruptive Dozen technologies, including video updates.
About the World Medical Innovation Forum
The World Medical Innovation Forum was established in 2015 in response to the intensifying transformation of health care and its impact on innovation. The Forum is rooted in the belief that no matter the magnitude of change, the center of health care needs to be a shared, fundamental commitment to collaborative innovation – industry and academia working together to improve patient lives. In 2022, Bank of America joined with Mass General Brigham as presenting sponsor of the Forum, bringing together two leading organizations with extensive healthcare expertise and a shared commitment to support Boston’s continued growth as a global biotech and investment hub.
About Mass General Brigham
Mass General Brigham is an integrated academic health care system, uniting great minds to solve the hardest problems in medicine for our communities and the world. Mass General Brigham connects a full continuum of care across a system of academic medical centers, community and specialty hospitals, a health insurance plan, physician networks, community health centers, home care, and long-term care services. Mass General Brigham is a nonprofit organization committed to patient care, research, teaching, and service to the community. In addition, Mass General Brigham is one of the nation’s leading biomedical research organizations with several Harvard Medical School teaching hospitals. For more information, please visit massgeneralbrigham.org.
About Bank of America
Bank of America is one of the world’s leading financial institutions, serving individual consumers, small and middle-market businesses and large corporations with a full range of banking, investing, asset management and other financial and risk management products and services. The company provides unmatched convenience in the United States, serving approximately 66 million consumer and small business clients with approximately 4,300 retail financial centers, approximately 17,000 ATMs, and award-winning digital banking with approximately 41 million active users, including approximately 32 million mobile users. Bank of America is a global leader in wealth management, corporate and investment banking and trading across a broad range of asset classes, serving corporations, governments, institutions and individuals around the world. Bank of America offers industry-leading support to approximately 3 million small business households through a suite of innovative, easy-to-use online products and services. The company serves clients through operations across the United States, its territories and approximately 35 countries. Bank of America Corporation stock (NYSE: BAC) is listed on the New York Stock Exchange. www.bankofamerica.com
Tracy M. Doyle
Mass General Brigham Innovation
(M) 262 227 5514
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