President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative

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By Jennifer Carlson, Assistant Vice President of External Affairs and Advocacy

As a leading academic medical institution that translates research findings to innovative patient care, Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) strongly supports President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI), a research model that would accelerate biomedical discoveries and give doctors new tools and knowledge for targeting treatments for cancer and other diseases.

The Obama administration says the initiative, which would be launched with a $215 million investment that is included in the president’s proposed 2016 budget, will leverage advances in genomics, emerging methods for managing and analyzing large data sets while protecting privacy, and health information technology to expedite discoveries that will help doctors tailor patients’ treatment to the biological characteristics of their disease.

Specifically, the budget proposal would allocate:

  • $130 million to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for developing a national research cohort of a million or more volunteers to contribute their health data;
  • $70 million to the National Cancer Institute (part of the NIH) to strengthen efforts to identify genomic drivers of cancer and develop strategies for stopping them;
  • $10 million to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to create databases supporting a PMI regulatory structure;
  • $5 million to help the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology develop privacy standards for exchanging data across systems.

How will this federal initiative benefit our patients? At the OSUCCC – James, we believe it will complement our own precision cancer medicine efforts that are already underway for using genomic technologies to aid cancer diagnosis and treatment.

We realize that no cancer is routine and that each cancer’s unique genetic makeup can help us determine which treatments will be most effective for individual patients. To discern genetic makeup, scientists use a process called genomic tumor sequencing. This process identifies the arrangement of the chemical building blocks that spell out biological information in the DNA of genes.

Precision medicine through genomic tumor sequencing thus enables doctors to select targeted drugs or drug combinations that will accurately attack cancer cells, and to avoid using unnecessary or ineffective drugs. Moreover, treatments that can successfully fight cancer cells based on genomic information often have fewer side effects and don’t harm healthy tissue.

The OSUCCC – James has pioneered a multidisciplinary genomic approach to precision cancer medicine, incorporating it in the clinic and advancing it through research. Sameek Roychowdhury, MD, PhD, who directs our precision cancer medicine efforts, is leading a clinical trial that evaluates a mechanism for the timely genomic sequencing of tumor samples and the return of potentially clinically useful sequence results in patients with advanced or refractory (treatment-resistant) cancer. The trial includes a Precision Tumor Board with experts from many disciplines who assess sequencing results and oversee the study.

Because our researchers have long been at the forefront of genomic discoveries and translational medicine, we at the OSUCCC – James welcome the president’s Precision Medicine Initiative as a national collaboration that will bolster our efforts by establishing a “cancer knowledge network” to advance scientific discovery and guide treatment decisions, thus helping us pursue our shared vision of a cancer-free world.

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