Obama’s Precision Medicine Brouhaha: What’s the Point? - Diaceutics

Obama’s Precision Medicine Brouhaha: What’s the Point?

February 11th, 2015

Peter Keeling

Peter Keeling, CEO of Diaceutics, gives his reaction to the recent announcement by President Obama that $215 million is to be invested in a new precision medicine initiative in the United States. 

Few events over the past decade will have triggered as many acres of text as President Obama’s announcement on a $215 million fund to further the cause of precision (or personalized) medicine [2015]. Across the numerous blogs, tweets and journal coverage as diverse as the WSJ, Forbes, the New Yorker, the Boston Business Journal and Genomeweb, the reception is….well, mixed. Like so much about Obama’s presidency, we are presented with pretty polar opposite views on the usefulness of a couple of hundred million dollars thrown at the barriers to democratizing personalized medicine. Let’s face it, the pharma and research industries are spending this quantum on new therapeutic research directions quarterly and the amount is hardly aligned with the billions allocated to space exploration (to which many liken the personalized medicine trajectory).

However, I think most of the press coverage misses the point, really. Three things have just happened, each of which will have a profound impact on the trajectory of personalized medicine (in our view):

  1. By placing a genetic registry fund in the hands of one of the most dedicated personalized medicine pioneers (Francis Collins) and his team at the NIH, the US will find itself at the forefront of innovation and discovery in the decades to come. Personalized medicine lacks infrastructure, but this investment in a genetic superhighway will enable US industry to be competitively advantaged over EU and Japanese counterparts (in personalized medicine) in the years to come.
  2. Those of us working in personalized medicine always have a hard time explaining to the uninitiated what we do. Statements like, “we are going to revolutionize the way your physician will treat you with new tests and targeted drugs” often elicit responses along the lines of “what is a targeted drug?, when is this going to happen?, what is the big deal about this?”… etc., etc. In one fell swoop, the President’s announcement placed personalized medicine on the front page and kept it there for almost a week.  In short, personalized medicine went viral and mainstream in a way no other announcement before has done. Journalists were having to learn and explain it in plain English (thank you). Personalized medicine became part of the national debate.
  3. Lastly (and frankly I am stretching to call this a seminal event), the President came down on the side of a phrase – precision medicine. Initially, this looked like death to ‘personalized’ but as you read the eprint you realize that in fact precision and personalized became interchangeable. Those purists who believe that we should just use personalized medicine to describe our profession were thwarted and those who prefer precision medicine for its precision, found themselves mashed back in with ‘personalized’. So there you have it … it doesn’t matter what you call it … the President says so.

Students of tipping points will always tell you that they are the result of perfect storms which brew for years. At Diaceutics, we have stopped shy of describing specific events (important though they are in the personalized medicine narrative) as anything other than a further ingredient in the brew. But tipping points and perfect storms also need a valve of some sort, and a President of the United States taking time out to tell a nation that Precision – sorry – Personalized Medicine – is so important as to redirect tax dollars towards it, comes pretty close.


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