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Genomic Medicine on the March

On Thursday, the Secretary’s Advisory Committee for Genetics, Health, and Society at the Department of Health and Human Services will meet to discuss a set of reports on the future of genomic medicine. The meeting will cover a range of important issues such as the impact of affordable whole-genome sequencing; comparative effectiveness research; genetics education for healthcare providers, patients, and public health workers; and the sharing of genomic data across multiple sectors including research, industry, and healthcare services.  This is the kind of federal-level dialogue and coordination promoted in the Science Progress report, “Paving the Way for Personalized Medicine.”

SACGHS has formed a task force to address the clinical utility of genetic testing—that is,.the usefulness of genetic tests for helping doctors choose more effective interventions for their patients. Assessing clinical utility is an important component of both personalized medicine and comparative effectiveness research, which analyzes interventions head-to-head to see which work better for different patients. The goal is to improve comparative effectiveness research by incorporating genetic tests, which would allow physicians to tailor treatments to individual patients based on their own DNA.

The Personalized Medicine Coalition held a conference last fall to promote the alignment of comparative effectiveness research with personalized medicine. This alignment is also a crucial aspect of the recommendations issued by the Institute of Medicine, which promoted research on both “diseases and conditions with the greatest aggregate effect on the health of the U.S. population, but also less common conditions that severely affect individuals in vulnerable subgroups of the population.”

The Center for American Progress has also recognized the importance of ensuring that CER can “accelerate the discovery of approaches to individualized medicine and help providers cater to the specific needs of patients.”  This will move medicine beyond the “one size fits all” therapies that result from the research provided by pharmaceutical companies to the FDA.  SACGHS is taking an important step forward by identifying ways to assess the clinical utility of genetic tests. This was one of several recommendations CAP has made not just for advancing personalized medicine but also for improving the quality of genetic testing in the report, “Genetic Information Non-Discrimination.”

Genetics education and training will also be a major part of the SACGHS meeting agenda. The task force outlined its action plan in July of 2008 and has since set out to identify the needs of healthcare providers, the public health workforce, and the general public for genetic education. The task force also identified various types of case studies that it will use to analyze the current information gaps in genetic testing. This will require exploring the best way to gather and disseminate information about pharmacogenomic testing, newborn screening, diagnosis of single gene disorders, direct-to-consumer testing, and population genetics. The task force plans to release their report in the coming months.  This is an important step, as the public must be “informed and educated about personalized medicine through outreach efforts, opportunities for public comment or input, and most importantly through transparency.”

Data sharing is also a major component of the agenda.  Representatives from government, academia, health care systems, industry, and consumer groups will present different models for sharing genomic information. This will be followed by a discussion of health information technologies that aim to efficiently connect the data among these multiple sectors.  In “Paving the Way for Personalized Medicine,” my co-author and I addressed both the positive developments as well as the missed opportunities on this front.  In particular, we noted that HHS’s Health IT Standards Committee has not properly collaborated with outside networks that are working to devise consistent nomenclature so that genomic data can be utilized through health IT.  We recommended this kind of collaboration so that HHS can leverage the expert resources available for combining cutting-edge genomic science with health IT.

The face of medicine is changing at a breakneck pace and a forum like the SACGHS meeting allows scientists, policymakers, innovators, service providers, and patients to work together to ensure that this new era of medical innovation serves the common good by being safe, effective, efficient, and equitable.

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