Remarks by the President on Precision Medicine
11:19 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you so much, Elana, for that wonderful introduction. Let me just be clear, when I was 19, I was not doing genetic testing. (Laughter.) When I met Elana at the White House Science Fair last year, she tried to explain her research to me -- and to help her explain her findings, she made these giant pink chromosomes out of swim noodles, which was helpful to me -- (laughter) -- because I know what swim noodles are, and I saw how they fit together.
But I could not have been more impressed with Elana. And she represents the incredible talent and energy and possibility of our young people, and so I’m so proud of her and I’m so grateful that she introduced me here today. And she’s doing great at Harvard from what I understand. So those of you who are interested in purchasing stock in her -- (laughter) -- I’m sure she has an agent of some sort that you can talk to.
We’ve got some folks here who are doing outstanding work to keep Americans healthy. We have America’s Health and Human Services Secretary, Sylvia Burwell. You can give her a round of applause. (Applause.) She’s worthy of it. We’ve got our Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy. Where’s Vivek? (Applause.) Stand up, Vivek. Our new Surgeon General. We haven't had one in a while. (Laughter.) So we’re really happy to have him here. And he looks sharp in his uniform. We have Dr. Harold Varmus of the National Cancer Institute. Harold. (Applause.) We have the singing scientist, Dr. Francis Collins, of NIH here. (Applause.) And we have my science advisor, Dr. John Holdren, who does not sing. (Applause.) For anyone wondering, “Is there a doctor in the house?” -- we have got you covered.
We also have members of Congress who are here. Lamar Alexander from the great state of Tennessee is one of the Senate’s key supporters of encouraging medical innovation, and I’m so looking forward to working with him. Give Lamar a big round of applause. (Applause.) Senator Patty Murray is prepared to work with him on this issue. She couldn’t make it here today. But we do have on the House side, Congresswoman Diana DeGette, who is here and who is leading this effort in the House. We’re very proud of her. (Applause.)
Now, last week, in my State of the Union Address, I focused on what we need to do to make sure middle-class economics helps more Americans get ahead in the new economy. We’ve got to help working families make ends meet and make them feel more secure in a constantly changing, dynamic, global economy. We have to offer more opportunities for people to upgrade their skills for better-paying jobs in this economy. And we’ve got to build the world’s most competitive economy so that businesses create jobs here in the United States and not someplace else.
And that last part is what I want to focus on today. We’ve invited some of America’s brightest minds in medicine and technology; some of our strongest advocates for privacy. And perhaps most importantly, we’ve invited patients who have the most at stake in these efforts. And we’re here to harness what is most special about America, and that is our spirit of innovation; our ability to dream and take risks, and tinker and try new things. And as a result of that, it will not only improve our economy, but improve the lives of men and women and children for generations to come. And together, what’s so exciting is, is that we have the possibility of leading an entirely new era of medicine that makes sure new jobs and new industries and new lifesaving treatments for diseases are created right here in the United States.
Because we shouldn’t just celebrate innovation. We have to invest in innovation. We have to nurture innovation. We have to encourage it and make sure that we’re channeling it in ways that are most productive. And that’s especially true when it comes to medicine. After all, when American researchers developed a vaccine for polio, a program created by Congress helped to distribute it. A federally funded study helped American doctors discover the risk factors for heart disease. Grants from the National Science Foundation and NIH supported the early experiments that led to the invention of the MRI.
And these kinds of investments don’t always pay off. Basic research, by definition, will sometimes lead us down blind alleys, but it will also tell us what we don’t know, which then helps us figure out new pathways. And when things do pay off, then they create economic opportunities in ways that we could never imagine.
So, Francis, Dr. Collins here, helped lead the Human Genome Project, and we’ve got a number of people here who are deeply involved in that process. And one study found that every dollar we spent to map the human genome has already returned $140 to our economy. There’s a huge economic stake in us tapping into this innovation. (Applause.) There’s nothing wrong with clapping about that.
But as anybody who’s ever watched a loved one battle with an illness, particularly a life-threatening illness -- and I suspect that there’s nobody here who hasn’t been touched in some fashion by that experience -- what everybody here understands is that the most important impact these investments can have can’t be measured in dollars. If we have an opportunity to prevent hurt and heartbreak for more families; if we have the opportunity to help people live longer, happier, healthier lives; if we have the chance to make sure that a young person like Elana, who was stricken by a disease before their life has even really gotten going, if we have a chance to make sure that they’re okay and cured, and then able to make incredible contributions our society, then we’ve got to seize that. We’ve got to go after that.
And that’s why we’re here today. Because something called precision medicine -- in some cases, people call it personalized medicine -- gives us one of the greatest opportunities for new medical breakthroughs that we have ever seen. Doctors have always recognized that every patient is unique, and doctors have always tried to tailor their treatments as best they can to individuals. You can match a blood transfusion to a blood type. That was an important discovery. What if matching a cancer cure to our genetic code was just as easy, just as standard? What if figuring out the right dose of medicine was as simple as taking our temperature?
And that’s the promise of precision medicine -- delivering the right treatments, at the right time, every time to the right person. And for a small but growing number of patients, that future 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 helps doctors determine who will be helped by a new antiviral drug, and who will experience harmful side effects.
And advances in technology means these breakthroughs could just be the beginning. The year Dr. Collins helped sequence the first human genome, it cost about $100 million dollars, and today it costs less than $2,000. Wearable electronics make it easier than ever to record vital signs from your blood sugar to your heart rate. Electronic medical records let doctors and researchers across the country collaborate more closely than ever before. And more powerful computers help us analyze data faster than ever before.
So if we combine all these emerging technologies, if we focus them and make sure that the connections are made, then the possibility of discovering new cures, the possibility of applying medicines more efficiently and more effectively so that the success rates are higher, so that there’s less waste in the system, which then means more resources to help more people -- the possibilities are boundless. So the time is right to unleash a new wave of advances in this area, in precision medicine, just like we did with genetics 25 years ago.
And the really good news -- this is how you know that the moment is right, is there’s bipartisan support for the idea -- (laughter) -- here in Washington. (Applause.) Which makes me very happy. (Laughter.) When I was a senator back in 2005, I worked with Republican Senator Richard Burr on a bill supporting precision medicine. Newly elected Republican Senator Bill Cassidy -- who also happens to be a gastroenterologist -- recently called precision medicine, “An incredible area of promise.”
And that’s why the budget I send this Congress on Monday will include a new Precision Medicine Initiative that brings America closer to curing diseases like cancer and diabetes, and gives all of us access, potentially, to the personalized information that we need to keep ourselves and our families healthier.
So let me just outline the facets of this. First, we’re going to work with the National Cancer Institute. We want to find the genetic factors that can lead to cancer. And we want to use that knowledge to develop new and more effective approaches to help people beat this disease.
Second, we’re going to work with the FDA to develop new approaches for evaluating next-generation genetic tests. The way we approve a new gene-sequencing technology is going to be different than the way we approve a new pacemaker or prosthetic device. And we need to make sure that our approach reflects the difference in technology.
Third, we’re going to work with the National Institutes of Health to create a research group of one million volunteers. And just like analyzing our DNA teaches us more about who we are than ever before, analyzing data from one of the largest research populations ever assembled will teach us more about the connections between us than ever before. And this new information will help doctors discover the causes, and one day the cures, of some of the most deadly diseases that we face. So if we have a big data set, a big pool of people that’s varied, then that allows us to really map out not only the genome of one person, but now we can start seeing connections and patterns and correlations that helps us refine exactly what it is that we’re trying to do with respect to treatment.
And finally, we’re going to make sure that protecting patient privacy is built into our efforts from day one. And I’m proud we have so many patients’ rights advocates with us here today. They’re not going to be on the sidelines. It’s not going to be an afterthought. They’ll help us design this initiative from the ground up, making sure that we harness new technologies and opportunities in a responsible way.
So the Precision Medicine Initiative we’re launching today will lay the foundation for a new generation of lifesaving discoveries. But in order for us to realize its potential, I’m asking more hospitals, and researchers, and privacy experts to join us in this effort. And I’m asking entrepreneurs and non-profits to help us create tools that give patients the chance to get involved as well. Because we want every American ultimately to be able to securely access and analyze their own health data, so that they can make the best decisions for themselves and for their families.
And ultimately, this has the possibility of not only helping us find new cures, but it also helps us create a genuine health care system as opposed to just a disease care system. Part of what we want to do is to allow each of us to have sufficient information about our particular quirks -- (laughter) -- that we can make better life decisions. And that, ultimately, is one of the most promising aspects about this -- making sure that we’ve got a system that focuses on prevention and keeping healthy, not just on curing diseases after they happen.
Medical breakthroughs take time, and this area of precision medicine will be no different. But the patients with us this morning are living proof that the dawn of a new era has arrived. If we start today, and seize this moment, and the focus and 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 matter.
Bill Elder was one of Michelle’s guests at the State of the Union last week. Where’s Bill? Here he is. Stand up, Bill. (Applause.) Bill is a good-looking, young guy. (Laughter.) And about 20 years ago, Bill was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. But it turns out Bill is one of 4 percent of cystic fibrosis patients whose disease is caused by a particular mutation in one gene. And a few years ago, the FDA fast-tracked a new drug target specifically targeting that mutation. And one night in 2012, Bill tried it for the first time. Just a few hours later he woke up, knowing something was different, and finally he realized what it was: He had never been able to breathe out of his nose before. Think about that.
So Bill is now 27. When he was born, 27 was the median age of survival for a cystic fibrosis patient. Today, Bill is in his third year of medical school. (Applause.) And “for the first time in my life,” Bill said -- for the first time in his life, he says, “I truly believe that I will live long enough to be a grandfather.” And one day Bill will be able to tell his grandchildren about how he used the miracle of his own life to not only serve as an example, but also an inspiration and ultimately a pathway for his own career to help save the lives of other people.
And that’s the spirit of hope, and resilience, and community that’s always carried America forward. And we may disagree sometimes, especially here in Washington, but we do share a common vision for our future. We want an economy powered by the world’s best innovations, the best ideas. We want a country that extends its promise of opportunity to everybody who’s willing to work for it. We want to have a nation in which the accidents and circumstances of our birth aren’t determining our fate, and therefore born with a particular disease or a particular genetic makeup that makes us more vulnerable to something; that that’s not our destiny, that’s not our fate -- that we can remake it.
That’s who we are as Americans, and that’s the power of scientific discovery. And we want Bill’s generation, and the generations that come after, to inherit that most extraordinary gift anybody can imagine, and that is not just a chance to live a long, and happy, and healthy life in this greatest country on Earth, but also the chance to remake that world continuously, in ways that provide great promise for future generations. So I’m very excited about this. I hope you are, too.
Thank you, everybody. God bless you. (Applause.) God bless the United States. Let’s get to work.
11:39 A.M. EST