Amidst the laundry list that is the State of the Union was the Precision Medicine Initiative. In short, it’s a program geared toward expanding treatments crafted to address patients that don’t respond to treatments targeted to an ‘average patient.’ The initiative was announced with Bill Elder in the audience. Elder benefited from a ‘precision’ treatment for his cystic fibrosis. The cause of his disease is shared by only 4 percent of cystic fibrosis patients.
Details at the moment are scarce. The Federal budget may give additional details once it’s released next month. The program would likely be led by the National Institutes of Health, though the focus of the Initiative would not necessarily be restricted to medicines, wider use of DNA testing to help craft cures or similar clinical treatments. Refinements in medical imaging can be helpful in this area and health information technology may also be leveraged to develop new cures that can assist those not helped by treatments geared toward the ‘average’ patient.
Setting aside the usual concerns about getting approval for new initiatives in a tight budgetary environment, it remains to be seen if this program can successfully be sold to the general public. If the focus is on treatments focusing on the margins, it could be hard to sell the benefits to a broader public. Of course, if there are members of Congress with direct experience benefiting from targeted treatment, then the acceptance of this program might be easier to get. Unlike the BRAIN Initiative, focused on better understanding of something we all have, the Precision Medicine Initiative runs the risk of being a niche program, not likely to get the large investments it might need. If it follows the organization of the BRAIN Initiative, including several agencies and a few public-private partnerships, the total investment might be spread around sufficiently to mitigate the political challenges of getting lots of money.