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UCSF Scientists, Leaders Highlight Latest Advances at 2017 Precision Medicine World Conference

By Lisa Cisneros

Charles Chiu speaks at the Precision Medicine World Conference in January 2017
Charles Chiu, MD, PhD, was one of the UCSF speakers at the Precision Medicine World Conference in January 2017.

Scientists, clinicians and entrepreneurs shared the latest innovations and initiatives in the rapidly evolving movement to make health care more personal, predictive and preventive at the Precision Medicine World Conference (PMWC) in January.

Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo

UCSF Speakers at Precision Medicine World Conference

UCSF faculty and leaders joined the speakers at the yearly event that shares the latest innovations and initiatives in precision medicine.

UC San Francisco scientists joined about 200 speakers representing business, government, pharma and biotech who talked about advances in cancer therapies, such as liquid biopsies, gene-editing technology, clinical research informatics, deep machine learning, data visualization and digital health.

A few highlights include:

  • Atul Butte, MD, PhD, professor of pediatrics, director of the UCSF Institute for Computational Health Sciences and
  • Jennifer Doudna, PhD, professor of chemistry and molecular cell biology at UC Berkeley who received a PMWC award on Jan. 22, says the rapidly evolving gene-editing technique known as CRISPR/Cas9 will soon have results of its first clinical trial and that researchers will next focus on applications to treat sickle-cell anemia and eye diseases;
  • Robert Hiatt, MD, PhD, professor and chair of the UCSF Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, says UCSF is taking a broad, long-term, transdisciplinary approach in an initiative aimed at reducing the incidence and mortality from the most common cancers in San Francisco by working with Kaiser, Sutter, Dignity Health, the San Francisco Department of Public Health and others;
  • Shawn Shafer, PhD, director of Advanced Genomics at MilliporeSigma, where his group oversees the development of molecular tools for genetic research and diagnostic applications, called on the scientific community to stand up in defense of science at the March for Science; and
  • Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, MD, PhD, presented an update of the Precision Public Health Summit, saying it’s imperative that diverse populations are included in studies not only to reduce health disparities to achieve equity, but also because it leads to better science and improved outcomes.

Ensuring that news tools and technology in health and wellness reach as many people as possible was a recurring theme that emerged at the World Economic Summit, UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood, MBBS, said in his opening remarks at the PMWC, which UCSF co-hosted.

Hawgood, who attended the forum in Davos, has made precision medicine a priority in his administration. UCSF faculty scientists are working at the local, state and national levels on biomedical research that involves racial and ethnic minorities and the socioeconomically disadvantaged.

“We know that minorities and underserved communities both bear a much higher burden of disease,” Hawgood said. “Addressing health disparities is where precision medicine can have the greatest impact.”

New Leadership in Washington

With new leadership in Washington, D.C., Tal Behar, co-founder and president of the event PMWC International, opened the three-day conference in Mountain View, Calif., by acknowledging what was on the minds of many: We are “anxious, curious and eager to know about the changes in our industry.”

While questions remain about the state of science and federal funding in health care and biomedical research in the Trump administration, speakers at the PMWC say scientific and technological innovation will continue through projects already in the pipeline and through public-private partnerships, emerging start-ups and established companies.

The future is still unfolding in precision medicine, a nascent approach that began in 2011 with a National Academy of Sciences report. Precision medicine efforts was expanded nationally by President Obama who announced a “bold new research effort to revolutionize how we improve health and treat disease” in his 2015 State of the Union address.

“The dawn of light is just coming up over the horizon” in precision medicine, said Euan Ashley, PhD, director of Stanford Clinical Genomics Service, referring to new developments in immunotherapy, data sharing and digital diagnostics. “We should be able to predict and prevent disease.”

Executives and entrepreneurs in the technology and health care marketplace say they’re taking a long-term view on investing in new companies. “We’ll wait and see” what comes out of Washington, D.C., said Alexis Borisy of Third Rock Ventures. “This is a golden time of innovation.”

Ultimately, products and services will be judged on the value they bring to patients, physicians and the health care system, said Andrew Schwab of SAM Ventures. He also emphasized that increased diversity of the world will improve the quality of the data if patients are willing to share their information.

Engaging the Public and Patients

In a conversation at the PMWC, Robert Califf, MD, former deputy director of the FDA, and Keith Yamamoto, PhD, UCSF vice chancellor for Science Policy and Strategy, emphasized the critical role that the public and patients have on advancing science and discovery.

Califf, who recently resigned from the FDA, stressed the importance and impact of patient advocacy groups can have to champion investment into research and raise awareness and funds to fight intractable diseases.

Yamamoto says realizing the promise of precision medicine depends upon educating the public about what’s at stake and engaging them to be active participants in research by sharing their data.

“Our success will be depend upon engaging both patients and healthy people who become convinced that their contributions will benefit the health and wellbeing of themselves, their children and their grandchildren,” Hawgood said.

Below are videos of some of the UCSF speakers presentations:

Sam Hawgood, MBBS, UCSF Chancellor
Topic: Opening Remarks


Keith Yamamoto, PhD, UCSF Vice Chancellor for Science Policy and Strategy
Topic: Fireside Chat: FDA’s Role and Responsibility in Expediting Best Treatments for Patients


Atul Butte, MD, PhD
Topic: Generating Insights from Multi-modal Healthcare Data for Precision Medicine


Charles Chiu, MD, PhD
Topic: Clinical Next-Generation Sequencing for Infectious Disease Diagnosis


Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, MD, PhD, and Robert Hiatt, MD, PhD
Topic: Population Precision Medicine