Vertex Pharmaceuticals (MA)'s R&D Chief to Meet With Obama Today

Vertex Pharmaceuticals' R&D Chief to Meet With Obama Today
January 30, 2015
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

WASHINGTON – Dozens of pharmaceutical and biotechnology researchers and manufacturers will meet with President Barack Obama Friday to announce a national biomedical initiative that includes collecting genetic data on one million U.S. citizens to foment the development of better treatment and medications to combat cancers and other serious illnesses.

The White House invited top researchers from some of the biggest biotech companies in the industry, including David Altshuler, head of research at Vertex Pharmaceuticals , as well as researchers from Merck & Co. and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc. .

Dubbed the Precision Medicine Initiative, the White House plan would allow scientists to collect medical information from volunteers to study their genetics, environmental information and microbial information to learn how to individualize medical care. The White House said personalized care will, according to officials, allow physicians to choose the right medication to target a genetic defect causing an illness, such as cystic fibrosis. Current cancer genome research, such as that conducted by The Cancer Genome Atlas, has provided greater understanding of the molecular changes that occur in many cancers. Such information is shaping the way those cancers are treated in individual patients.

The White House said most medical treatments take a “one-size-fits-all” approach that is not always effective in patients fighting various illnesses.

“Precision medicine gives clinicians tools to better understand the complex mechanisms underlying a patient’s health, disease, or condition, and to better predict which treatments will be most effective,” the Obama administration said in a statement . “Patients with breast, lung, and colorectal cancers, as well as melanomas and leukemias, for instance, routinely undergo molecular testing as part of patient care, enabling physicians to select treatments that improve chances of survival and reduce exposure to adverse effects.”

According to the National Institute of Health, which is leading the president’s initiative, precision medicine is “an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person.”

The NIH said the initiative will work with pharmaceutical companies to support clinical trials, test combinations of targeted therapies based on a tumor’s molecular signature and develop solutions to drug resistance that commonly limit the effectiveness of targeted therapies. Additionally the proposed initiative will use “liquid biopsies” of blood plasma to assess responses to therapies and develop models to predict response to drug combinations and to define mechanisms of resistance.

Obama is seeking $215 million in his proposed budget to finance the initiative, which is being reported as a data collection of medical records, laboratory test results, dental records, diet and lifestyle information and genetic data.

Obama is expected to present his budget proposal, which includes funding for the Precision Medicine Initiative, to the Republican-controlled Congress on Feb. 2. However the budget proposal is expected to raise discretionary spending $74 billion higher than current sequestration legislation allows. The president is seeking to get Congress to remove the spending cap levels.

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