Congress Hears Precision Medicine Challenges

Top health officials will visit Congress Tuesday to share promises and challenges of the cutting-edge — but little-understood — field of precision medicine.

Viewed as the next big frontier for curing diseases, precision medicine has received much attention lately from policymakers including President Obama, who asked Congress earlier this year to put hundreds of millions of dollars into its research.

The approach involves targeted cures based on a patient’s genetic makeup, meaning, for example, that two people with the same variety of cancer would get different, but more effective, treatments.

It’s a field that excites medical researchers, who hope it could open the door to better treatment and cures not just for cancer but also for other serious illnesses such as diabetes or cystic fibrosis. Some patients with certain cancers are already undergoing molecular testing to determine which drug they should be given.

Yet many barriers remain before the precision medicine approach can be applied widely — and members of Congress are trying to highlight those challenges with a Tuesday hearing on the subject, where National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins will testify, with two other top health officials.