In his 2015 State of the Union Address, President Obama proclaimed White House’s commitment to support the development of personalized medicine in the United States. He requested for $215 million from the 2016 federal budget to be allocated for the Precision Medicine Initiative that aims to collect genetic information from 1 million volunteers across the US.
National Institutes of Health will create a database of genetic material that will form the research basis for studying the influence of genetic variations on health and disease. The project will sample diverse groups of the American population across the board, and will include other relevant data which can provide a clearer picture about their wellbeing, lifestyle, and the environment.
Available medical treatments are generic and often not suited for all patients. Not to mention that the list of effective traditional drugs becomes shorter and shorter each year, due to the bacteria resistance.
Once the influence of variations in genetic heritage in the development of certain diseases and individual response to specific treatments is understood, it will give researchers a holistic understanding of our biology, individually and collectively, and enable them to structure pathways for tailoring new personalized treatments for each individual patient.
This has long been a dream in health care. In opens up an opportunity for a discovery of certain symptoms or predispositions for disease in the early stages of the development and enable preventive treatments long before the disease evolves. Take Angelina Jolie for example. She has undergone two preventive mastectomy treatments since she was discovered BRCA gene mutation, which greatly increases chances of getting breast and ovarian cancer. Similar procedures could be developed for other diseases as well, giving us an option to act in a preventive way and cut risks of developing heinous disease later in life.
There is still a big question about the modalities for the execution of the Precision Medicine Initiative. Genetic sequencing of one million people represents a heavy expenditure, which will be additionally increased with administrative and data processing costs. Probably the best option would be opting for public-private partnership, but this raises the question of data security. With the increased number of parties involved, there are greater chases for these data to be compromised in any possible way.
It is unquestionable that collaboration beats competition in this case, as the private sector is well ahead of government agencies in the field of genome research. Human Longevity Inc. already has a database containing thousands of complete human genomes and phenotype data, along with other relevant information. Their goal is identical to Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative: to build the most comprehensive genomic database in the world. They plan to obtain 1 million human genomes by 2020.
Government officials have become aware of the great potential of health care innovations, including genomic science, and the need to support constant breakthroughs in health research. Last year, the US House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee launched an initiative known as 21st Century Cures which aims to ensure that the laws keep pace with innovation in medical R&D, “to keep America as the innovation capital of the world”.