As part of the US government's precision medicine initiative (PMI), the National Institutes of Health said Thursday that it plans to be collecting health data, including information via smartphones or wearable sensors, from at least one million volunteers by 2019 to help in efforts to develop medicines tailored to individual patients' specific characteristics. Francis Collins, NIH's director, said the goal is to "empower any person, anywhere in the US, to raise their hand and volunteer to participate" in the PMI Cohort Program.
The NIH said it is providing funding to Vanderbilt University for a pilot project to learn how to attract volunteers, collect data, and what health findings participants want in return. Vanderbilt University will work in collaboration with advisers from Verily, formerly known as Google Life Sciences. Moreover, the NIH is working to make it easier for patients to access their electronic health records and share them with researchers. The PMI database will use data from patients enrolled in other genomic studies as well as people who directly volunteer, and Collins said a goal is to enroll 79 000 by the end of 2016. Collins further noted that while the PMI is not aimed at any specific disease, "this could be a very efficient way, going forward, to mount clinical trials to answer specific questions."
The initiative, which was announced in January 2015 was started with $215 million in funding, with $130 million going to the NIH, President Barack Obama is asking Congress for a further $309 million next year to scale up the initiative, with most going to the NIH.
In other news on Thursday, IBM and the New York Genome Center announced, as part of the PMI summit, they are collaborating to create a comprehensive and open source of genetic data to "accelerate cancer research and scale access to precision medicine using cognitive insights from IBM Watson."
The two parties will initially examine genetic information from 200 patients with cancer to compare how different types of sequencing might impact possible treatment options. Data from whole genome and whole exome sequencing as well as clinical panels will be fed into Watson to "help identify existing drugs that may be candidates to target patients' cancer-causing mutations," the companies said. Clinically relevant information will be returned to each patient's physician to support treatment decisions. The parties added that they seek to expand the collaboration with funding from additional partners.
John Kelly III, senior vice president of Cognitive Solutions and IBM Research, remarked "data is quickly becoming one of the most valuable resources in the fight against cancer." He added that "by amassing this contributed data and applying cognitive insights to the challenge of analysing cancer data, we believe we can soon scale access to precision medicine worldwide."
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