Genomics – The Modern Moonshot: Obama Names Experts to Precision Medicine Initiative

Much like breaking the sound barrier in 1947, the mapping of the Human Genome in 2003 was only the beginning. President Obama has called for an initiative to advance precision medicine in his latest State of the Union address.

Precision medicine is treating the individual patient, accounting for differences in an individual’s genes, environment and lifestyle. The key to achieving individualized care is accessing health, genetic and lifestyle data from as many volunteers as possible. The majority of the $215 million allocated for this initiative will go to the National Institute of Health (NIH) to conduct data collections and research to connect the dots among disease diagnoses, treatment outcomes, lifestyle, and genetic data of patients.

Dr. Kathy Hudson, deputy director of science, outreach, and policy at the NIH will lead the initiative, along with co-chairs, Dr. Richard Lifton, Professor of Genetics and Medicine at Yale University School of Medicine, and Bray Patrick-Lake, Director of Patient Engagement from Duke University. Together, the co-chairs and additional members from the public and private sectors will be responsible for creating a comprehensive plan to launch a national, patient-powered research cohort of one million or more Americans who volunteer to participate in the research.

Come September, the panel will deliver a preliminary report informing efforts to accelerate the understanding of individual differences that play a role in health, with the goal of informing better prevention and treatment strategies tailored for each person.

The initiative expects to accelerate tailored treatments for cancer by expanding genetically based clinical cancer trials, exploring fundamental aspects of cancer biology, and establishing a national “cancer knowledge network” that will generate and share new knowledge to fuel scientific discovery and guide treatment decisions.

Fascinatingly, the initiative will also collect data on an individual’s gut bacteria, because those little bugs just might have a big impact in the effectiveness of a medication.

We are entering an exciting new era in personalized patient therapy. One day we will say goodbye to general treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation whose side effects can be worse than the cancer itself, and say hello to targeted treatments that take into account an individual’s medical history, lifestyle and DNA. The last great frontier may not be a celestial body, but discovering the internal workings of our own human bodies.

Click here to learn more about the Precision Medicine Initiative and to see the full list of members.