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President Obama's Precision Medicine Initiative

February 5, 2015

Extending on the announcement made in his recent State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama outlined a bold, new Precision Medicine Initiative at a White House event last Friday, January 30. This exciting new enterprise will draw on the remarkable advances in multiple domains (particularly genomics!) to increase our understanding of human disease, revolutionize how we approach medical care, and greatly improve human health. The time is ripe for a major focus on precision medicine research - major advances in genomic technologies, electronic health records, technologies for capturing environmental and lifestyle information, data science, and the availability of numerous existing research cohorts, will foster the growth of this enterprise.

The Precision Medicine InitiativeCurrent medical practice cannot always account for differences in treatment response, but examples of being more "precise" in the delivery of medical care for a given individual are now emerging. For example, two people may metabolize the same drug at different rates due to inherited genomic variants that influence drug-metabolizing pathways. Precision medicine approaches use genomic information about a patient to determine the optimum choice of drug and dosage. Other compelling examples of precision medicine are emerging in the arena of cancer treatment. Individual tumors can vary greatly in the genomic changes that produce their cancerous properties. These differences are highly relevant in selecting the appropriate treatment for each patient.

President Obama's Precision Medicine Initiative aims to greatly accelerate the research needed to take advantage of great technological advances and to integrate them into medicine. There is quite a bit of information available about this exciting initiative. You can start by hearing the President's first announcement during his State of the Union Address at whitehouse.gov/sotu (specifically at 28:58 - 29:56) or his more detailed announcement from last Friday, January 30. Meanwhile, last week, Drs. Francis Collins and Harold Varmus published a description of the Initiative in the New England Journal of Medicine. Finally, you can follow the progress of the Precision Medicine Initiative at the White House and the NIH.

Silhouettes of people on the map of U.S.A.A major component of the initiative will be the establishment of a national, patient-powered research cohort of one million or more Americans. To jumpstart the planning for such a cohort, NIH is holding a workshop, entitled Precision Medicine Initiative: Building a Large U.S. Research Cohort. This workshop will be held on February 11-12, beginning at 8:30 a.m. on the first day. I invite you to tune in via the webcast at videocast.nih.gov to view what promises to be an important and engaging discussion.

Precision medicine offers great promise and, in many ways, represents a cornerstone for the long-term vision of genomics research. I personally - and NHGRI more generally - find President Obama's commitment to this new initiative both gratifying and inspiring.  While many challenges will undoubtedly be faced in the coming days, weeks and months in making the President's vision a reality, that hard work promises to lead to us into a new and exciting era of medical advances.

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Posted: March 3, 2015