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Cleveland Clinic CEO: Gene testing set for 'breakthrough'

Forget plastics. The future, to paraphrase a famous line from the classic 1967 movie "The Graduate," is one word: genes.

Last week, the Cleveland Clinic held its 10th annual Medical Innovation Summit, where more than 100 physicians and scientists name the 10 most important innovations they see coming in 2016.

While faster vaccine development was at the top, advances in testing centered around the unique genetic profile of humans was next. The field is generating a lot of excitement in both medicine and technology.

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"One of the things that we're seeing across the entire spectrum of health care is genomics," Cleveland Clinic President and CEO Toby Cosgrove told CNBC's "On the Money."

Cosgrove joined the Cleveland Clinic as a heart surgeon in 1975, and now leads the $6.2 billion dollar health-care system. He calls gene testing "a huge breakthrough."

Physicians and scientists "are beginning to genomically test cancer and find out what drugs that particular cancer will be responsive to. And we've seen some amazing results as a result of that," Cosgrove told CNBC in an interview with "On the Money."

Delos 'Toby' Cosgrove, CEO of the Cleveland Clinic.
Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Delos 'Toby' Cosgrove, CEO of the Cleveland Clinic.

According to the clinic, for people suffering from cancer and other fatal diseases, gene tests could "increase the speed and flexibility of clinical trials and guide desperate patients to the most promising experimental treatments."

Investor capital is beginning to flock to companies operating the sector, which is rife with potential medical breakthroughs.

"There are many things if you knew you had the risk for you would begin to do preventative steps." As an example, Cosgrove said, "If you had a risk for colon cancer, you're going to want to do a colonoscopy earlier on in life."

Eventually, he thinks genetic testing will start as early in life as possible.

"I predict children are going to be genetically tested starting at birth because if you have a child you want to know particular risks that they're going to have and how you can begin to influence that going forward, Cosgrove said. "So I think it's a big opportunity."

As Obamacare enters its third year, Cosgrove has seen the impact first-hand. He said the Affordable Care Act (ACA) started out to do three things: increase access, improve quality and reduce costs of health care. Thus far, the ACA's impact has been a mixed bag, he said.

"Thirteen million more people are covered, so access has improved," Cosgrove said. "As far as quality metrics are concerned, generally quality has stayed pretty much the same over the last five years."

As for affordability, Cosgrove tells CNBC the U.S. health care inflation rate has come down since 2008, last year he says it was about 2.6 percent.

But premium rates for individuals will be available beginning on Monday. Meanwhile, rates under Obamacare are expected to rise next year.

"We understand there's going to be tremendous pressure on the health-care industry to reduce costs, no question about that," Cosgrove said.

Cosgrove cited the recent "consolidation and mergers and acquisitions" as evidence. He expects that consolidation will eventually make health-care delivery more efficient, and cheaper.

"We need to control costs and we're working really hard across our industry to do that."

"On the Money" airs on CNBC Sundays at 5:30 a.m. ET, or check listings for air times in local markets.