California Launches Initiative to Advance Precision Medicine

UCSF to Lead Public-Private Effort to Advance Data-Driven Medicine

By Laura Kurtzman

Gov. Jerry Brown is launching a statewide initiative with the University of California, to advance the field of precision medicine. The effort will involve collaborating with other academic and industry partners and starting to build the infrastructure and assemble the resources necessary to further develop the field.

The goal is to integrate clinical data with genomic, environmental, socioeconomic, mobile and other data from patients so scientists can understand diseases better and develop more precise therapies.

The California Initiative to Advance Precision Medicine will be a first step toward enabling the state’s scientists to study any disease and even the health care system itself, using data from across the UC health care system and other academic medical centers and health care providers. 

Atul Butte

UCSF's Atul Butte, who's also executive director of clinical informatics at UC Health, will lead the new California Initiative to Advance Precision Medicine. Photo by Susan Merrell

UC San Francisco is hosting the two-year initiative, through UC Health, which includes UC’s five medical centers, with $3 million in startup funds from the state. The public-private initiative aims to leverage these funds with contributions from other academic and industry partners.

The California Initiative to Advance Precision Medicine will develop two demonstration projects in disease areas where UC and its external partners have deep expertise. These projects will be designed to protect patient privacy.

The initiative will also inventory the public and private precision medicine assets now available in the state, and convene experts in medicine, technology, privacy, bioethics and intellectual property to ensure the secure, fair and respectful exchange of data and knowledge.

“UC Health is bringing UC’s medical centers and health professional schools together, and this initiative is building on our collaborative successes,” said UC President Janet Napolitano. “A number of our medical centers are already working on precision medicine and have deep scientific and medical expertise in this area. Other UC campuses have deep technological expertise.”

Finding a Way to Harness All the Data

Precision medicine aims to develop more accurate diagnostic tools and therapies. This work is likely to reveal, for example, why people who seem to have the same disease often respond so differently to medication. It also offers an opportunity to understand why many diseases, such as heart, lung and kidney disease, as well as asthma, stroke and cancer, affect racial and ethnic groups in different ways.

Precision Medicine timeline

Click on the image to view larger.

Despite the revolution in genetics and genomics, and the steep fall in the cost of sequencing, researchers have not yet been able to harness all of the molecular, environmental and social data that is now available, much less the data collected through mobile technology, and link them to clinical information.

“The success of the California Initiative to Advance Precision Medicine depends upon finding ways to effectively collect and integrate diverse forms of data, from the very objective – genomic and molecular – to the more subjective – environmental influences and life experiences,” said Keith Yamamoto, PhD, Vice Chancellor for Research at UCSF. “This fantastic collaboration between the state and the University of California shows that both perceive the remarkable opportunity that we have.”

With so many campuses spread throughout the state and so much scientific, clinical and computational expertise, the UC system has the potential to bring it all together, said Atul Butte, MD, PhD, who is leading the initiative.

“If we can work with interested parties in biotech and Silicon Valley, we’ll have a wealth of resources to develop precision medicine,” said Butte, UCSF professor of pediatrics, who directs UCSF’s Institute for Computational Health Sciences and is executive director of clinical informatics at UC Health. “We have the potential to gain completely new insights into disease and develop new diagnostics and therapeutics.”

National Momentum in Precision Medicine

Precision medicine has been embraced by President Barack Obama, who announced a national effort in January, and recently named an expert panel, including former UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann, MD, MPH, and Esteban Gonzalez Burchard, MD, MPH, UCSF professor of bioengineering and therapeutic sciences, to oversee the recruitment of one million volunteers to share their data, along with tissue samples. The panel also includes experts from Google and Intel.

“UCSF has been instrumental in developing precision medicine, and we’ve made it a campus priority,” said UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood, MBBS. “But we can only really begin to make use of this concept if we partner with other UC campuses and academic and industry groups across the state who are also working very hard on these issues.”

UCSF is the nation's leading university exclusively focused on health. Now celebrating the 150th anniversary of its founding as a medical college, UCSF is dedicated to transforming health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care. It includes top-ranked graduate schools of dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy; a graduate division with world-renowned programs in the biological sciences, a preeminent biomedical research enterprise and top-tier hospitals, UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children's Hospitals.

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