The Promise of Precision Medicine

By Secretary Sylvia Burwell


Since coming into my role as Secretary this past June, I’ve committed myself to working across government and the private sector to deliver impact for those we serve — the American people.

Today, there are critical areas in health care where common interests give us ample opportunities for common ground — from improving the quality of the care we receive while spending our dollars more wisely, to strengthening global health security, and reaffirming American leadership in research, innovation and science.

That’s why this week my travels took me to San Francisco, because of something called precision medicine, or “personalized medicine.”

The promise of precision medicine is delivering the right treatments, at the right time, to the right person. It is through this promise that we are given one of the greatest opportunities for new medical breakthroughs that we have ever seen.

For a small but growing number of patients, that future and the promise of precision medicine is already here. Eight out of 10 people with one type of leukemia saw white blood cell counts return to normal with a new drug targeting a specific gene. Genetic testing for HIV patients is helping doctors determine who will be helped by a new antiviral drug, and who will experience harmful side effects.

In addition, the advancement of technology means these breakthroughs could just be the beginning. Interoperable Health Information Technology allows physicians and researchers to share information more closely — ultimately helping to deliver the right treatment to the right patient at the right time.

On Thursday, March 19th Secretary Burwell visited UCSF, a leader in precision medicine.

That’s why the President’s budget includes a new Precision Medicine Initiative that brings America closer to curing diseases like cancer and diabetes, and gives all of us access to the personalized information that we need to keep ourselves and our families healthier.

We are very excited about this — but we know we can’t do it without the partnership of experts in the field, like those I met with yesterday at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF).

While at UCSF, I visited their Mission Bay Campus and Genentech Hall’s Center for Advanced Technology with Chancellor Hawgood to meet with researchers and see the promise of precision medicine in action.

The promise of precision medicine is in the research of Dr. Geoff Manley, who is working on building a knowledge network that helps create more precise diagnoses for Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) in order to get us to more patient-specific treatments.

Secretary Burwell speaks with Dr. Geoff Manley.

The promise of precision medicine is in the work of Dr. Nussbaum and Jonathan Hirsch of Syapse to make genomic research around cancer actionable with Syapse’s software.

Secretary Burwell speaks with Dr. Nussbaum and Jonathan Hirsch.

These are just some of the many examples of precision medicine and the promise it holds for the future care of patients across the country. Yesterday, I got to meet one of those patients, Laura Holmes-Haddad. In November 2012 she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. After traditional chemotherapy failed, she started participating in a new clinical trial of what’s called a “PARP inhibitor.” PARP is an enzyme involved in DNA repair. Since August of 2013 she’s been cancer free.

Medical breakthroughs take time, and this area of precision medicine will be no different. It’s in the interest of our health and our children’s future to make these breakthroughs happen. It’s in our economic interest to make sure they happen here. If we seize this moment, and focus the energy and the resources that it demands, there is no telling how many lives we could change. And every single one of those lives matters.

That’s who we are as Americans, and that’s the power of scientific discovery.

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