- President Barack Obama on Friday will announce more details about an ambitious proposal aimed at enhancing precision medicine techniques and personalized medicine in America, with the goal of delivering more targeted therapies to tackle diseases like cancer and diabetes. Obama originally referenced the project, dubbed the Precision Medicine Initiative, during his sixth State of the Union address earlier this month.
- On a conference call with reporters Thursday night, federal health and science officials including NIH director Dr. Francis Collins, FDA commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg, and White House Office of Science and Technology Policy associate director Dr. Jo Handelsman, outlined the broad contours of the plan, which includes $215 million in new funding for the NIH, the NCI (part of NIH), the FDA, and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC). The funding will be proposed in the president's budget, which will be release on Monday.
- The biggest new detail about the proposal: The administration is aiming to collect medical information about and sequence one million Americans' genomes through collaborative efforts between the biopharma industry and government research organizations.
As NIH director Dr. Collins told reporters on a conference call Thursday night, many of the plan's specifics (including how to reach out to volunteers for genome sequencing, how follow-up studies will be conducted, questions over privacy, etc.) still need to be sketched out.
Nonetheless, this is an ambitious undertaking that may wind up being even more significant for medical research than Obama's $100 million BRAIN initiative and the biggest biomedical research goal since the Human Genome Project, especially considering how enthusiastically the industry has already been pursuing this field. In fact, that's likely the reason that the White House (and Dr. Collins) jumped on this plan—it's an area ripe for collaboration between industry and government, and one that benefits most from a whole lot of hard cash and coordination efforts that are (at least partially) solidified through official fiscal policy.
Handelsman said that the million-person sequencing effort shouldn't be considered a biobank since the undertaking is, in fact, even more ambitious in ways. "We do not envision this as being a biobank, which would suggest a single repository for all the data or all the samples," said Handelsman on a conference call. "There are existing cohorts around the country that have already been started and have rich sources of data. The challenge in this initiative is to link them together and fill in the gaps."
Some more details on the funding: the vast majority, $130 million, will be targeted towards the NIH-led effort to find one million volunteers to sequence in a responsible manner; $70 million will go to the NIH's National Cancer Institute for personalized therapy research; $10 million will go to the FDA to build the necessary databases; and $5 million will go to the ONC for interoperability and coordination efforts. This, of course, all depends on whether or not Congress will actually pass this portion of the president's budget.