Precision medicine seems to be the new health care buzz word and everyone is jumping on the bandwagon – even President Obama. During his recent State of the Union Address, Obama unveiled the Precision Medicine Initiative  –  “a bold new research effort to revolutionize how we improve health and treat disease.” According to a White House press release, launched with a $215 million investment in the President’s 2016 budget, the Precision Medicine Initiative will pioneer a new model of patient-powered research that promises to “accelerate biomedical discoveries and provide clinicians with new tools, knowledge, and therapies to select which treatments will work best for which patients”( With the term trending and government funding flowing, it’s important to understand what precision medicine and how it could impact the future of health care.


The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines precision medicine ( as an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment and lifestyle for each person. The basic idea is that if we have a better understanding of a disease and how it affects a person based on their genetic makeup, we can then identify and develop treatments that are more specific and targeted to yield better outcomes. We’ve seen good successes with this approach in areas of cancer, but with other diseases like diabetes, we are far from making this the norm. So, what have we learned based applying the precision medicine approach to treating and managing cancer?


  • Data, data and more data – the success of this approach hinges on being able to accumulate a massive amount of clinical data (we are talking millions of people) to help scientists figure out genetic features that predispose people to certain diseases and why. All of these data needs could raise a lot of privacy issues, but ultimately, the hope is that scientists uncover molecular underpinnings of every disease, which will lead to new treatments or even cures. As you can imagine, this sort of work is costly and extremely time consuming.  In the short-term, these data need could impact timing around new innovations.
  • In some cases – one size may fit some – while this new approach could revolutionize medicine, not all patients will need or benefit from targeted therapy to treat.  For example, cancer, patients who have mutations in certain types of genes, who have mutations that are beyond the reach of available drugs, or whose tumor cells lack identifiable mutations generally would not be candidates for precision medicine treatments.  That said, we would be applying the approach to understand genetic mutations.
  • Disease IQ is key – the onus will not only be on the physician, but on the patient to be better informed about their specific disease. For example, with breast cancer knowing the type of cancer you have (HR+, HER2+ or triple negative), dictates the course of treatment.  If patients have a fuller understanding of the way the disease is activated or could progress, this could enhance the doctor/patient dialogue.


From a communications perspective, precision medicine is a real news driver.  A quick Google news search yielded over 60,000 articles in the last month on the topic.  The news value of this topic may subside a bit, but will likely continue to garner momentum.  In understanding how precision medicine impacted cancer care and the communications approach around it, we can apply those learnings to build out communications approaches for other disease states in this changing health care landscape.




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