Note: This special feature originally appeared in the print edition of Maclean’s.

Based in Toronto at global innovation hub MaRS Discovery District, Dr. Zayna Khayat is the Lead of MaRS Health, which provides entrepreneurs with the advice, resources and capital they need to bring their breakthroughs to patients, and the Director of MaRS EXCITE, which streamlines the path to market of technologies poised to transform modern medicine.

Genetics are aiming to forge a stronger relationship between doctor and patient.
Genetics are aiming to forge a stronger relationship between doctor and patient. Photo credit: Mediaplanet.
Mediaplanet: How have genomics revolutionized healthcare?

Dr. Zayna Kayat: Two codes determine >80 percent of your health: your postal code and your DNA code. While genetics comprise ~20-30 percent of your health status, they also interplay with many other factors such as literacy, poverty, environment, etc. Only in rare cases do genetic markers determine clinical outcomes on their own, but it’s precisely in these cases where we’ve seen the best clinical results. For example, we can now offer cancer patients different courses of treatment based on a very specific genetic mutation.

MP: What is the role of health startups in all this?

ZK: While there is still a lot of work required to ‘hack’ the human genome, entrepreneurs are already translating what we do know into products and services that will improve the specificity and speed of preventing, diagnosing and treating illnesses.

MP: Have any Canadian startups emerged in this area?

ZK: There are many great startups in this area, among them: GeneYouIn (drug therapies); Newtopia (custom nutrition and fitness); Nutrigenomix (personalized diets); Geneseeq (cancer therapies), Spartan Bioscience (DNA testing on demand); etc.

MP: What’s ahead in the next 10 years?

ZK: As big data becomes more mainstream and more startups like those above emerge, we will see further integration of genetic and other types data. This will help paint a clearer picture of a person’s health drivers, informing choices to both maintain and restore health.

MaRS News Desk