“We want to have a nation in which the accidents of our birth aren’t determining [our medical] fate, [because] we can remake it. That’s who we are as Americans, and that’s the power of scientific discovery.”

So said President Obama in his State of the Union Address last January, calling for a new, federally-funded “Precision Medicine Initiative.” According to the President, something called precision medicine—in some cases people call it personalized medicine—gives us: “one of the greatest opportunities for medical breakthroughs that we have seen.”

Combining data

According to the Personalized Medicine Coalition, an educational and advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., “Personalized medicine is an evolving field in which physicians use diagnostic tests to determine which medical treatments will work best for each patient. By combining the data from those tests with an individual’s medical history, circumstances, and values, health care providers can develop targeted treatment and prevention plans.”

Based on this definition, the President’s four-point program is designed to stimulate an ongoing evolution in medicine that moves the health care system away from the current one-size-fits-all, trial-and-error paradigm, and towards one that is predictive, preemptive, participatory and targeted.

The four pillars

  1. Adding $70 million to the budget of the National Cancer Institute to study the genetic factors that cause cancer

  2. Adding $10 million to the budget of the Food and Drug Administration to better evaluate next-generation genetic tests

  3. Adding $5 million to the budget of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology to facilitate the exchange of data

  4. Adding $130 million to the budget of the National Institutes of Health to build a national cohort of at least one million volunteers in order to study individual variation

Implications for pharma

If Congress approves the President’s request, it will only be following commitments already made by the pharmaceutical and diagnostic industries to develop new personalized medicines.

According to a recent study, the biopharmaceutical industry has nearly doubled its investment in personalized medicine in the past five years and expects to increase it by an additional third. 42 percent of all drugs in development are targeted treatments for particular individuals and 73 percent of all cancer compounds are similarly conceived, according to the survey.

This means that patients will continue to see better medicines with fewer side effects as well as a more efficient health system in the future.