California starts statewide precision medicine initiative with Atul Butte at the helm

California has become the latest government to set up a precision medicine initiative. And like President Barack Obama's nationwide plan, the success of the state initiative will rest in part on whether it can combine and make sense of different sources of data.

The University of California is leading the initiative, the first phase of which will involve funneling $2.4 million into two as-yet-undecided demonstrations. A further $600,000 is set aside for research into the ethical, legal and social issues surrounding precision medicine. While the details of the first wave of projects are still being established, the basic idea is in place. California wants to combine data covering multiple metrics in an attempt to better understand and treat disease, a broad goal shared by the United Kingdom's 100,000 Genomes Project, J. Craig Venter's Human Longevity and others.

At this stage, it is unclear whether California has the will or financial flexibility to embark on a large-scale data generation program, so--as in Obama's initiative--meshing together existing data may be key. "The success of the [initiative] depends upon finding ways to effectively collect and integrate diverse forms of data, from the very objective--genomic and molecular--to the more subjective--environmental influences and life experiences," UCSF VP of Research Keith Yamamoto said in a statement.

California is looking to its UC San Francisco's big-name new hire Dr. Atul Butte to oversee this work. Butte joined UCSF from Stanford University, in part because of the opportunity to run the California precision medicine initiative. The initiative will also benefit from the input of Yamamoto, who had a hand in the 2011 National Academy of Sciences report that coined the term "precision medicine" and outlined a plan to gather molecular data from millions of people. The plan never got further than the printed page but is now cropping up in a new form in California and elsewhere.

- read the release
- here's SF Business Times' take
- and Nature News' coverage

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