White House holds progress report summit after 1 year of Precision Medicine Initiative

Just over a year after President Obama's announcement of the Precision Medicine Initiative, the White House hosted a summit to update the public and industry stakeholders on progress made on the project. The goal of the initiative is to foster collaboration across sectors and utilize technology and cutting edge medicine to make significant breakthroughs for the many diseases and conditions that still lack effective means of preventions or treatment.

One component of the initiative, the National Institutes of Health's project to rally 1 million U.S. volunteers for a genomic research project by 2019, has resulted in a partnership with Verily, formerly Google Life Sciences, according to a Thursday statement from Francis Collins, MD, NIH director. The administration's vision for the initiative is that it accelerates the process of discovering cures in ways medicine has never seen before, President Obama said in a panel discussion at the summit Thursday morning.

"Our Precision Medicine Initiative has been designed to get all of these various building blocks together so that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts," the president said.

He pointed to the example of the Veterans Administration, which has begun to gather genomic data on a large number of veterans. Through the initiative, the president envisions the VA being able to take that data and connect it to researchers at a particular institution or university who are focused on studying a disease that might be pervasive in the veteran population. The researchers would be provided with a large amount of data relevant to their work and the veterans could be provided with insights that may one day lead to actionable treatments for chronic conditions.

"Those opportunities are there, and since we made the announcement a year ago we've seen huge interest from the private sector, the public sector, the nonprofit sector, the medical community and researchers," the president said. "Today we can announce that many more organizations are joining us and there's a whole new set of initiatives that will help drive this even faster."

The president is asking Congress for more than $300 million to carry the initiative into 2017.  New programs under the Precision Medicine Initiative will include a pilot program for investigating how to best recruit precision medicine participants and drafting security guidelines for collecting medical data through the program.

The National Cancer Institute also announced an increased focus on precision medicine and genomics in cancer treatment and research.

"One of the promises of precision medicine is not just giving researchers and medical practitioners tools to help people, but empowering individuals to monitor themselves and take a more active role in their own health," the president said. "So often what we label as a healthcare system is more of a disease system in which a passive patient waits to get sick and a bunch of experts help them solve it."

The president suggested that by doing precision medicine "right," healthcare stands to save big on costs through a shift to wellness and preventive treatment that puts genetic data in front of individuals so they know what their risk factors are and what steps they can take before becoming sick.

"My hope is that this becomes the foundation, the architecture whereby 10 years from now, we can look back and say we've evolved medicine in areas like cancer, Alzheimer's disease or other diseases that cause so much pain and suffering for so many families across the country," the president said.

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