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October 19, 2022

What’s the difference between precision medicine and personalized medicine?

Understanding when to use the terms precision medicine vs personalized medicine.
precision medicine vs personalized medicine

Article updated June 2023.

Is there a difference between precision medicine and personalized medicine? When should the two terms be used, and do they refer to the same thing?

The concepts of ‘precision medicine’ and ‘personalized medicine’ have been with us for the best part of two decades. Although real-world applications have been slowly developing, these concepts are now beginning to impact the clinical trial and drug development processes significantly. So it’s relevant to ask: what’s the difference between precision and personalized medicine?

This article seeks to provide the answers.

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Precision medicine vs personalized medicine

The terms precision medicine and personalized medicine are often used interchangeably but inaccurately. The reality is that there are subtle but distinct differences between the two terms, and this ought to be reflected in their usage, especially when alluding to patient care.

Personalized medicine

‘Personalized medicine’ is an older term that has fallen out of favor. ‘Precision medicine’ has taken precedence for reasons of clarity. The concern with the term ‘personalized medicine’ is that it implies treatments and prevention strategies that are bespoke to the individual. These connotations are potentially misleading, so ‘precision medicine’ is the currently favored term.

Precision medicine

The term ‘precision medicine’ more accurately reflects the reality of the discipline. So, what is the importance of precision medicine? Precision medicine involves gene sequencing and big data analytics to create specific treatments and disease prevention strategies for specific groups of people based on genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors – not individual patients. Genomic medicine, targeted therapy, precision oncology, and gene therapy are some procedures under precision medicine. It’s also aided in cancer research and continues to impact our treatments today.

Defining the difference between precision and personlization

In 2011, the National Research Council published its landmark Toward Precision Medicine paper, adopting definitions of ‘precision medicine’ and ‘personalized medicine’ from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

According to Toward Precision Medicine:

“[Precision medicine refers to] the tailoring of medical treatment to the individual characteristics of each patient…to classify individuals into subpopulations that differ in their susceptibility to a particular disease or their response to a specific treatment. Preventative or therapeutic interventions can then be concentrated on those who will benefit, sparing expense and side effects for those who will not. Although the term ‘personalized medicine’ is also used to convey this meaning, that term is sometimes misinterpreted as implying that unique treatments can be designed for each individual.”

The role of pharmacogenomics

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences defines pharmacogenomics as:

“a field of research that studies how a person’s genes affect how he or she responds to medications. Its long-term goal is to help doctors select the drugs and doses best suited for each person.”

As such, it’s an intrinsic part of precision medicine. It’s another term to get straight in the often-confusing world of genomic medicine, but as precision treatments become more commonplace, terms such as these are ones we’ll all have to get used to.

The future of personalized medicine

The aforementioned definitions reflect the current reality, but as techniques and technologies improve, the future of precision and personalized medicine might look very different. Rutgers University reports that an emerging trend in precision medicine is using artificial intelligence and machine learning to allow earlier interventions through advanced diagnostics and offering more effective and economical treatments.

Consider this from Johnson et al’s intriguing Precision Medicine, AI, and the Future of Personalized Health Care.

“Active research in both AI and precision medicine is demonstrating a future where health-related tasks of both medical professionals and consumers are augmented with highly personalized medical diagnostic and therapeutic information. The synergy between these two forces and their impact on the healthcare system aligns with the ultimate goal of preventing and detecting diseases affecting the individual.”

If research projects like these come to fruition, we might see a world where ‘personalized medicine’ – the term’s true meaning – becomes a reality.

The growth of technologies such as artificial intelligence and social listening allows for bespoke, personalized experiences on a mass scale. An insights management platform, for example, empowers medical affairs teams to personalize their virtual engagements and helps clinical teams provide more personalized patient-centric clinical trials.

To learn more about adopting a more patient-centric culture, read our blog on how pharma companies can meet the need for a better patient experience.


National Library of Medicine. Toward precision medicine.
National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Pharmacogenomics.
National Library of Medicine. Precision medicine, AI, and the future of personalized healthcare.
Rutgers University. The future of precision medicine.

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