Think Like Amazon

By Sandy K. Johnson

President Obama’s mention of precision medicine in his State of the Union address in January has jump-started public-private efforts to collaborate quickly on individualized medicine. Dr. Gary Gibbons of the National Institutes of Health said a blueprint will be ready by the end of this year -- “lightning speed” for the government.

A national research study will collect information from 1 million U.S. volunteers, compiling genome data, lifestyle information, biological samples, and more, all linked to electronic health records. This will help forge a new model for scientific research, Gibbons told journalists at a National Press Foundation seminar.

He said cancer is a “shovel ready” disease for individualized medicine because so much data is already available. One resource is The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA), which has tracked the characterized genomes of cancers in 11,000 patients over the last five years.

Gibbons used a technology analogy to describe the urgency for precision medicine. “Kodak missed the digital age. I worry medicine is slow to embrace the medical technology before us… It’s important to be more like Amazon,” he said.

Individualized medicine has the potential to democratize health care.