Leapfrogging with Precision Medicine

The Challenge

Advancing precision medicine in an equitable and societally beneficial way means ensuring that healthcare systems are able to adopt the most scientifically and technologically appropriate approaches to a more targeted and personalized way of diagnosing and treating disease. In certain instances, countries or institutions may be able to bypass, or “leapfrog”, legacy systems or approaches that prevail, particularly in developed country contexts.

The World Economic Forum’s Leapfrogging with Precision Medicine project, led from its Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, will develop a set of case studies demonstrating how a precision medicine approach in countries with greenfield policy spaces can potentially transform healthcare delivery and outcomes. Through this, approaches to enacting precision medicine-ready policies and governance mechanisms will be explored, identified, iterated and scaled.

The Opportunity

Participating in this project will clarify foundational elements necessary to develop a precision medicine-ready healthcare system in a developing or emerging economy, and the necessary policies to support the development and sustainability of these elements. This will be done with different pilots in a number of countries.


The first potential pilot project will develop a case study on diagnostic capacity building for cancer treatment in Rwanda. This is designed to address the policy barriers and gaps around accelerating a precision medicine approach.

Diagnostics function as a compass for precision medicine. With the support of appropriate policies and governance mechanisms, countries can innovatively address limited diagnostic equipment, laboratory facilities and human capacity that contribute to delayed cancer diagnoses. Such diagnostic tools could include biomarker testing in instances (e.g. for breast cancer) where this could help guide providers to certain treatment pathways. Genetic and biological information generated through diagnostics helps ensure early and accurate treatment, thereby avoiding incorrect treatments, wasted time and unnecessary costs. 

Additional impacts from leapfrogging to appropriate cancer diagnostics could be the development of laboratory networks, biobanks and genomic sequence databanks, and research and development of treatments better matched to the unique genomic features of the Rwandan population.


The second potential pilot project will use a case study in China, which has different resources, infrastructure and barriers than Rwanda regarding precision medicine readiness.

Under the Healthy China 2030 Initiative, China is in a leadership position for precision medicine development globally, in terms of the speed and scale in which the concept can be advanced through the country’s healthcare systems. There is a solid foundation from which to leapfrog due to the China’s strong scientific research, large populations for clinical trials, good support for industry and venture capital, and pilot cities for innovation. The success of precision medicine in China will depend on how well the country addresses issues of data safety and sharing, development of local technologies and resources, talent management and development of industry standards.

While this project is in very early scoping stages, a potential option that has emerged for increased exploration, informed by these factors and the recent government updates of clinical trial regulations and approvals of precision medicine therapies, is revisioning clinical trials in the context of precision medicine.


The Leapfrogging with Precision Medicine project will enable the testing of scalable policy mechanisms to support design, implementation and evaluation of precision medicine approaches in developing countries, or emerging economies.

Enabling a precision medicine approach in such contexts, potentially by leapfrogging existing or prevailing practices, means that vastly more patients will have access to personalized treatments designed to improve outcomes, and streamline and reduce costs. 

Anticipated impacts for government, society and industry of the leapfrogging project are to:

  • Test, refine and scale policies and frameworks that support building the fundamental components of a precision medicine-ready healthcare system

  • Provide a “sandbox” for experts and practitioners grappling with best models of addressing ethical, legal, social issues related to access to cutting-edge or most appropriate precision medicine approaches in developing countries and emerging economies

  • Explore whether one focus area (e.g. diagnostic capacity, clinical trials) can function as a first mover in transitioning to a precision medicine-ready system

  • Innovate how to incorporate user/patient-centered design principles into precision medicine-ready systems in developing countries or emerging economies

  • Gain a community of partners and stakeholders with which to share best practices and potentially collaborate on approaches to leapfrog to solutions for more targeted and personalized screening, diagnosis and treatment of diseases

  • Evaluate how leapfrogging can lead to more efficient and effective approaches to improving health outcomes in low-to-medium resource countries versus the status quo 

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