Obama wants $215M to kick off 'precision medicine' project

President Barack Obama is asking Congress for $215 million to sequence the genomes of 1 million Americans and help develop a new generation of medicines, part of a sweeping plan to accelerate biomedical R&D.

The so-called Precision Medicine Initiative is, in part, an effort to create a huge pool of patient data and make it available to researchers, helping them better understand the underlying causes of disease and develop treatments that target genetic variants. To get there, Obama wants to recruit 1 million or more volunteers to undergo genomic sequencing, combining their data with information already stored in biobanks around the country to create one huge resource for R&D.

Now, to get the project off the ground, the president wants $215 million for the next fiscal year, which begins in October. Here's how those funds would be apportioned:

  • $130 million would go to the National Institutes of Health, covering the first steps of recruiting and sequencing patient volunteers.
  • $70 million would go to NIH's National Cancer Institute to help decode which genes drive tumor growth and spotlight new therapies to block them.
  • $10 million would go to the FDA, allowing the agency to bring in the technology and expertise it will need to regulate such targeted treatments.
  • And $5 million would go to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, which will work to protect patient privacy and data security as the Precision Medicine Initiative comes together.

Obama detailed the effort at a White House event Friday morning, calling precision medicine "one of the greatest opportunities for new medical breakthroughs that we've ever seen." The president likened his plan to the Human Genome Project, the 13-year, $3 billion effort that formed the bedrock of modern genomics.

"Basic research by definition will sometimes lead us down blind alleys," Obama said, "but it will also tell us what we don't know, which then helps us figure out new pathways."

Joining the president at the announcement were a handful of patients who have already benefited from precision therapies, "living proof that the dawn of a new era has arrived," Obama said. The group included Bill Elder, a cystic fibrosis sufferer taking Vertex Pharmaceuticals' ($VRTX) breakthrough treatment Kalydeco, and NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was diagnosed with the rare chronic myeloid leukemia in 2008 and has since benefited from Novartis' ($NVS) Gleevec. Also in attendance were biopharma execs from Merck ($MRK), Regeneron ($REGN), Foundation Medicine ($FMI) and Vertex, among other companies.

The president first hinted at the project in last week's State of the Union address, urging "the country that eliminated polio and mapped the human genome to lead a new era of medicine ... 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."

- read the White House release