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US precision medicine push gathers momentum

Hopes to ‘revolutionise’ medicines through creation of shared healthcare databases
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A year after President Obama's Precision Medicines Initiative was unveiled, the first pilots in the one million person cohort study at the heart of the project are now underway.

Progress with the PMI was discussed at a briefing event at the White House yesterday, at which President Obama said that the new approach would replace the "blunt instruments" often used in medical treatment today with individualised therapies which promise to "reduce costs, provide much better care and make our entire healthcare system more effective".

The key to all this is the creation of healthcare databases that can be shared and analysed - including electronic health records, genome sequences, data from diagnostic devices - to find new lines of inquiry for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease.

For example, efforts are already underway to connect the Department of Veterans Affairs' Million Veteran Program - which is already collecting genomic information from US service personnel - with other researchers in the public and private sectors, said President Obama.

The VA study will sit alongside the National Institutes of Health's plans to create the PMI Cohort, a longitudinal research study of one million or more US volunteers, and the NIH says the target is now to have the first 79,000 participants enrolled by the end of the year and the one million cohort in place by the end of 2019.

To that end, a pilot programme aimed at encouraging enrolment into the PMI Cohort has started at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

This has the assistance of Google's life sciences unit Verily and is exploring ways of "engaging, enrolling, and retaining participants" in the study.

A second project will create partnerships between the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and health centres across the US to bring sectors of the American public that are under-represented in biomedical research into the cohort.

Another pilot - called 'Sync for Science' - will take a crowd-sourcing approach to the generation of healthcare data, creating standardised applications to give individuals the ability to contribute their data to research.

"Participants will be able to access their EHRs, control and manage their data, and coordinate their care among their healthcare providers and researchers if they choose", said NIH director Francis Collins.

Several other announcements were made alongside the PMI briefing, including a collaboration between IBM's Watson Health unit and the New York Genome Center that examine genetic information from 200 patients with cancer to compare how different types of sequencing might have a bearing on treatment options.

"My hope is that … 10 years from now we can look back and say this is the architecture that revolutionised medicines in areas such as cancer and Alzheimer's," said President Obama.

Article by
Phil Taylor

26th February 2016

From: Research

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