President Obama has long expressed a strong conviction that science offers great potential for improving health. Now, the President has announced a research initiative that aims to accelerate progress toward a new era of precision medicine (www.whitehouse.gov/precisionmedicine). We believe that the time is right for this visionary initiative, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other partners will work to achieve this vision.
The concept of precision medicine — prevention and treatment strategies that take individual variability into account — is not new1; blood typing, for instance, has been used to guide blood transfusions for more than a century. But the prospect of applying this concept broadly has been dramatically improved by the recent development of large-scale biologic databases (such as the human genome sequence), powerful methods for characterizing patients (such as proteomics, metabolomics, genomics, diverse cellular assays, and even mobile health technology), and computational tools for analyzing large sets of data. What is needed now is a broad research program to encourage creative approaches to precision medicine, test them rigorously, and ultimately use them to build the evidence base needed to guide clinical practice.
The proposed initiative has two main components: a near-term focus on cancers and a longer-term aim to generate knowledge applicable to the whole range of health and disease. Both components are now within our reach because of advances in basic research, including molecular biology, genomics, and bioinformatics. Furthermore, the initiative taps into converging trends of increased connectivity, through social media and mobile devices, and Americans’ growing desire to be active partners in medical research.