Friday, September 16, 2016

Precision Medicine: Are We Making Progress?

The Precision Medicine Initiative, launched by President Obama in his 2015 State of the Union speech, aims to extend the concept of precision medicine — the right treatment or prevention plan for the right person at the right time — beyond cancer, where we have seen great progress, to all health conditions. A key part of this effort involves building the Precision Medicine Initiative Cohort Program, a group of at least 1 million Americans who will donate data about themselves, everything from health records to genetic sequences and diet surveys. FDA Chief Dr. Robert Califf thinks that number should be as high as 100 million. Perhaps this may be possible. In a recent survey published in PLOS One  more than half of the 2,600 respondents (54 percent) said they would definitely or probably be willing to take part in the program. 

The President called for $215 million in fiscal year 2016 to support the Initiative, which includes several components with efforts from across the federal government. Of this total proposed budget, $130 million was allocated to NIH to build a national,  participant group, called a cohort, and $70 million was allocated to the National Cancer Institute to lead efforts in cancer genomics. Cancer has shown the most promise in efforts to target treatments to the specific mutations of cancer patients. 

One such company leading efforts in helping patients by using precision medicine is Cure Forward, in Cambridge, MA. This is a small team with a vision “to create a platform to connect patients with genomic medicine, bringing the possibilities of precision medicine directly in reach. A way to use the best of technology to help people diagnosed with life-altering disease discover all of their options.  We want to make it easy for patients to understand the root cause of their conditions and put the knowledge to work. Get their data, find treatment options, including clinical trials.” I recently met with the Founder, Martin Naley, and my friend Alicia Staley, Patient Advocate to catch up on their progress. It’s an exciting vision to teach patients about molecular diagnostic testing, precision medicine, connect with other patients, and help them get into clinical trials. 

I’m optimist about the direction we are going with precision medicine. While some have been critical of Vice President Joe Biden’s “Moonshot”, his Summit showed that there are a lot of very smart people involved and getting behind the effort. Yes it is complicated, but once again shows the need for collaboration in the fight against cancer. As I have written about many times, “we are all in this together”.