The Future of Mass Spectrometry in Healthcare

The Future of Mass Spectrometry in Healthcare

One of the barriers to delivering precision medicine at scale is the existing healthcare infrastructure itself, from lack of accessibility to complex reimbursement. The Jackson Laboratory recently convened the 4th Annual Forum on Healthcare Innovation to bring together innovators, payers, providers, scientists and investors to discuss how these stakeholders can work more collaboratively to ensure innovations aren’t stifled before they reach the point of care.

The Forum organizers note that “In today’s model, innovators originate ideas, investors capitalize them, and the healthcare system tests them – all before payers become involved.” Within this model, the organizers assert, many promising innovations never reach patients because payers and providers, presumably brought in too late, ultimately derail them.

One innovation that’s already confronting progressive insurers and providers is mass spectrometry. Although mass spectrometry isn’t new, application in the clinical setting is. And Dr. Alan Sachs, chief scientific officer for Thermo Fisher Scientific, believes that clinical mass spectrometry-based tests – and proposals that seek reimbursement for them – are now much closer to reaching the desks of insurers and health system professionals. He made this point while participating in the “Innovation in Healthcare” plenary session during the Forum.

“My objective was to communicate the applications of mass spectrometry as well as the reasons it can be superior to other technologies, including the ability to deliver multiple tests in the same run,” said Dr. Sachs. “While we’re in the initial stages of using mass spectrometry in the clinical setting, it’s not too early for insurers and providers to start thinking jointly about potential cost efficiencies, relative accuracy over existing tests and, most important, the impact on patient outcomes.” 

One question Dr. Sachs received from the audience is “can it really be this easy?” The short answer is yes, but it’s not that simple. For all its advantages in accuracy, cost and speed, mass spectrometry assays must be run on registered instrument platforms, and validation required by regulators isn’t easy. The experience with clinical next-generation sequencing shows this. 

Yet mass spectrometry-based platforms for clinical diagnostics should reach the broader healthcare market within the next few years. And now, Forum organizers assert, is the ideal time to investigate its advantages as well as address the barriers that could preclude broader, more cost-effective application in clinical settings.

What was Dr. Sachs’s takeaway after speaking with attendees of his presentation? “The audience is genuinely excited about the potential for mass spec in medicine. I encouraged them to advocate for what they want to see, whether that’s smaller instrument platforms, random access to ensure throughput, ease-of-operation, reliable performance or other requirements.” 

Among the notable experts also participating in the Annual Forum were Dr. Francis Collins, director, National Institutes of Health; Sandra Fenwick, president and CEO, Boston Children’s Hospital; and Edison Liu, president and CEO, The Jackson Laboratory. Major sponsors for the event included Aetna, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield and United Healthcare.