“I want the country that eliminated polio and mapped the human genome to lead a new era of medicine—one that delivers the right treatment at the right time,” Obama said. “In some patients with cystic fibrosis, this approach has reversed a disease once thought unstoppable. So tonight, I’m launching a new Precision Medicine Initiative to bring us closer to curing diseases like cancer and diabetes, and to give all of us access to the personalized information we need to keep ourselves and our families healthier.”
Even before the State of the Union, Rep. Tom Cole—the newly appointed head of the subcommittee overseeing NIH’s budget—was gearing up for a tour of the NIH facility. Cole says he arrived before other members for a quick briefing with NIH Director Francis Collins on the soon-to-be-unveiled initiative.
It wasn’t hard to get on board with precision medicine, the Oklahoma Republican said in an interview. Among many proposed advancements, the initiative aims to help chronically ill Americans in a way that officials say they hope could reduce medical costs. This is something Cole says his party can support, as evidenced in the recently passed spending bill, which ended almost a year of relative uncertainty for the initiative’s future and gave NIH the money needed to rev the program into high gear in 2016.
(NIH confirmed Cole’s visit on the day of the State of the Union, and said that while the conversation between Collins and Cole was confidential, NIH aims to give the Hill a heads-up on upcoming issues.)
The new appropriation comes as a relief for Collins. The initiative has two major parts: The National Cancer Institute (a part of NIH) will accelerate America’s knowledge of cancer genomics, and NIH will establish a cohort of a million or more people to submit their health information and participate in a national study of health. By the end of 2016, NIH hopes to have about 75,000 Americans signed up for the Precision Medicine Initiative Cohort Program, Collins said in an interview. (The overall goal of at least 1 million volunteers will likely take three or four years.)
Obama’s fiscal 2016 budget made clear what this would cost: $200 million would go to the NIH, $10 million to the Food and Drug Administration, and $5 million to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.
Initially, both the House and Senate seemed on board with funding the initiative, but when budget talks stalled, it appeared possible that Congress would opt for a continuing resolution—one that would provide no additional funding for precision medicine.
Meanwhile, NIH proceeded with planning, working to have the program ready to kick off in 2016 if Congress came through with the cash for it. Had NIH waited, Collins said, the cohort program wouldn’t have been ready in 2016.