THE United States has proposed analyzing DNA from more than 1 million American volunteers as part of a new initiative seeking to gain a better understanding of human disease and to create medication geared toward an individual’s genetic make-up.
“Precision medicine gives us one of the greatest opportunities for new medical breakthroughs we’ve ever seen,” said President Barack Obama, promising it would “lay a foundation for a new era of life-saving discoveries.”
In the near-term, the goal of the analysis is to create more and better cancer treatments, said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, according to Reuters. In the longer term, the project would provide data on how to individualize treatments for various diseases.
Obama proposed $215 million of the 2016 budget toward the initiative– $130 million of which would go to the National Institutes of Health for research cohort and $70 million to the institute’s National Cancer Institute to identify molecular drivers of cancer and use that knowledge to develop drugs.
A total of $10 million would be allocated to the Food and Drug Administration for the development of databases on which to build an appropriate regulatory structure, and $5 million would be directed toward the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology for the development of privacy standards and to ensure that data exchange is secure.
The funding, however, is not sufficient for the analysis of 1 million genomes from scratch. Whole-genome sequencing costs about $1,000 per genome, which could put the price tag on this component alone at $1 billion.
Previous efforts to analyze genomes include a 2013 privately-funded project launched by non-profit organization Human Longevity Inc., which set a goal of sequencing 1 million genomes by 2020.
The project will be made available to pharmaceutical companies.
Craig Venter, who is heading the project, said they would be happy to work with the administration to help them move the science. However, due to medical privacy regulations, “we can’t just mingle databases,” he said.
Such a process would also be challenging, but Collins said it is doable.
“It is something that can be achieved but obviously there is a lot that needs to get done,” he said, according to Reuters.
In another effort in 2014, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. collaborated with Geisinger Health System to sequence DNA from 100,000 Geisinger patients to look for correlations between genes and disease. A total of 50,000 samples per year are being sampled, said spokeswoman Hala Mirza, according to Reuters.
(With reports from Reuters)
(LA Weekend February 28 – March 3, 2015 Sec. A pg.7)