The White House Is Pushing Precision Medicine, but It Won’t Happen for Years

Mike Orcutt | MIT Technology Review | July 18, 2016

For starters, it’s too expensive and the science isn’t advanced enough.

With the right technologies to collect and make sense of biomedical information, we could speed up the pace of discoveries that lead to a new class of tailor-made drugs. That’s the argument behind the White House’s push for “precision medicine” (see “A Shot in the Arm for Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative”).

The goal of precision medicine is to provide drugs and therapies that are uniquely suited to individual patients based on their genetics and other distinguishing health information. To a small degree, that already is happening. Dozens of targeted drugs have gotten approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in recent years, and there are particularly successful examples in oncology. But despite the early successes, we are many years from realizing a “new era of medicine” the president described in his 2015 State of the Union address—if we can realize it at all.

The drug Herceptin became the first precision medicine in 1998 when it gained FDA approval for patients with a type of breast cancer caused by a specific genomic abnormality. A number of new drugs aimed at cancers characterized by particular abnormalities have since emerged. But not every patient with the target abnormalities responds to these drugs, and the reasons for that are not understood. Clues could be found by analyzing large collections of patient data that include genomic sequencing information as well as clinical data about which drugs the patients took and how they responded...