- President Barack Obama on Tuesday evening proposed a new "Precision Medicine Initiative" during his sixth State of the Union address to the nation.
- Details remain sparse for now. But the initiative is meant to fund personalized medicine strategies and gene mapping in an effort to better target drug therapies towards Americans with diseases like cancer and diabetes, likely through a boost to NIH funding.
- Obama cited (though not directly by name) Boston-based Vertex Pharmaceutical's Kalydeco therapy, which targets the genetic root of cystic fibrosis and was even dubbed "The Most Important Drug of 2012" by Forbes' Matthew Herper, while proposing the initiative. Bill Elder, a 27-year-old cystic fibrosis patient and medical student who is taking Kalydeco, was a guest of First Lady Michelle Obama at last night's event.
The president didn't map out all the details of his gene-mapping goals during the speech—but his forthcoming budget should have more hard numbers. It is highly likely that the Precision Medicine Initiative will involve bolstering funding to the National Institutes for Health (NIH). That's particularly important since NIH director Dr. Francis Collins directly called out lackluster medical and drug research funding as a cause for major concern during the JP Morgan Healthcare conference in San Francisco last week.
Obama also referenced the reality that genomics and personalized medicine will play an increasingly important role in treating the sick more effectively, and that American healthcare is headed for a future in which patients have their genomes sequenced as standard of care. "Tonight, I'm launching a new Precision Medicine Initiative to bring us closer to curing diseases like cancer and diabetes—and to give all of us access to the personalized information we need to keep ourselves and our families healthier," said the president.
"I want the country that eliminated polio and mapped the human genome to lead a new era of medicine—one that delivers the right treatment at the right time. In some patients with cystic fibrosis, this approach has reversed a disease once thought unstoppable." That's a reference to Vertex Pharma's game-changing Kalydeco.
The biotech and pharmaceutical industries have been hailing the breakthrough promise of gene therapy, genomics, and personalized medicine for years. Now, that effort is getting a presidential boost. What remains to be seen is whether Obama and the new fully Republican-controlled Congress can strike a deal for the funding necessary to see this new initiative through to the end.
Obama also hailed the courage of healthcare workers and companies working to fight the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and issued a worldwide call for better public health emergency and pandemic preparedness.