Today President Obama revealed some of the details of a $215 million proposal to invest in precision medicine.
That’s a branch of science that focuses on treatments aimed at particular subsections of patients rather than at an average patient.
The initiative was first announced in the president’s Jan. 20 State of the Union address. It is part of the president’s proposed budget. As such, it will have to be approved by Congress.
In a fact sheet, administration officials said they will seek out 1 million Americans to volunteer their health data to help with the project.
In a White House blog post, Lindsay Holt, director of digital content for the office of digital strategy, explained that one-size-fits-all medicine doesn’t fully work.
She noted that when you order glasses, you aren’t given a generic pair. You are prescribed a custom pair designed for your eyes.
Statistics Drive Precision Medicine
Precision medicine is driven by the increasing availability of genetic sequencing, as well as personal health data coming from electronic health records, electronic medical devices, and individual smartphones.
With the rise of genetic screenings, doctors can look at both patients’ DNA and the particular biological characteristics of their cancerous tumors.
It has become clear a patient with one disease signature can respond quite differently from another person with a different manifestation of the same disease.
Because the current medical system has been based on the idea of an average patient, existing systems have made it difficult to divide patients into smaller groups based on genetics and environment.
“What is needed now is a broad research program to encourage creative approaches to precision medicine, test them rigorously, and ultimately use them to build the evidence base needed to guide clinical practice,” Drs. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes for Health, and Harold Varmus, director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), wrote in an editorial today in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Cancer Research Is the Biggest Winner
Genetic sequencing has been widely adopted in cancer care and the White House initiative focuses first on expanding those efforts.
For example, some drugs that work effectively on patients with EGFR-positive cancers can work poorly or not at all on patients with other cancer markers.
Researchers have struggled to flush this out in clinical trials. The goal of these trials has generally been to test new medications on a broad sample of patients.
The initiative would give the NCI $70 million to fund research into precision cancer treatments.
Another $10 million would go to the Food and Drug Administration “to advance the development of high quality, curated databases to support the regulatory structure needed to advance innovation in precision medicine and protect public health,” according to the White House fact sheet.
Cancer research groups praised the plans.
“We are so excited about today’s event at the White House and specifically about President Obama’s major investment in the enormous potential of precision medicine, which is in the very early stages of transforming healthcare,” Dr. Margaret Foti, the CEO of the American Association for Cancer Research, said in a press statement.