Reflection on ASHG 2015

         October 14, 2015

ASHG 2015 in Baltimore was a very good conference for us at Golden Helix. It was a delight to connect with existing clients as well as interested members of our community. The conference is a premium networking opportunity for professionals in our field, with an ever increasing number of talks, demos and a constantly expanding vendor exhibition area.

ASHG         The Golden Helix booth was quite crowed during product demonstrations!

The elephant in the room: Where do we stand with the U.S. Precision Medicine Initiative?

In the second session, the Presidential Symposium on “Genetic Epidemiology at Scale: High Throughput Genomics Linked to Large Scale EHR systems,” Dr. Francis Collins talked about the precision medicine initiative. The vision is to assemble a longitudinal “cohort” of 1 million Americans. He presented a plan on how the Precision Medicine initiative would be implemented. This plan had received bi-partisan support earlier this year. President Obama and Congress had approved the budget to move forward.(Download my e-Book on Precision Medicine to learn more about this topic.)

Yet, his plan didn’t have any timelines. Back in January 2015, it was widely agreed across all parties that this initiative is the “right thing for our country”. However, with the latest tug of war in Congress, things are up in the air.

In his kick-off speech, Dr. Francis Collins tried to be upbeat. In a subcommittee hearing in the same week, he found clearer words. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) asked Collins about the effect of Congress’s failure to come to terms on a budget and the ramifications for the NIH. He specifically referenced the possibility of a year-long continuing resolution that would keep the agency’s budget at 2015 levels during the coming fiscal year.

Such a situation, Collins said, “would be simply devastating. The Precision Medicine Initiative, for instance, would basically have to go … on mothballs.”

The idea that the Congress of the United States of America agrees to fund a major project and then cannot agree on a matching budget 9 months later seems counter intuitive for anyone outside this country. In the bigger picture there is more at stake though. Similar initiatives are either on their way or have been already implemented in other countries. What is at stake is the possibility for the US not to become one of the key drivers in an area that is widely seen as an equally disruptive and transformative way to conduct medicine.

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