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Leiden Professor convenes precision medicine workshop at Harvard's Radcliffe Institute

Professors Simcha Jong (Leiden University) and Rifat Atun (Harvard University) convened an exploratory seminar to discuss challenges for health systems in realising the potential of precision medicine at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies in Cambridge, MA on 17 April 2017.

Precision Medicine

The development of large-scale biologic databases (e.g. human genome sequence), powerful methods for characterizing patients (e.g. proteomics, metabolomics, genomics, diverse cellular assays), and computational tools for analyzing large datasets are heralding a new era of precision medicine, in which disease prevention and treatment is ever more closely linked to individual variability. Hence, precision medicine is a central focus of investment agendas of governments, companies, and funding bodies. In the US, as part of the White House Precision Medicine Initiative, an NIH-led cohort study of 1 million Americans is linking data characterizing biologic specimens of subjects, behavioral data, and data from e-health records. In the UK, Genomics England is sequencing whole genomes of 100,000 patients as the basis for a new NHS genome sequencing service. However, translating major advances in the science and technology of precision medicine into improvements in health outcomes will require commensurate changes to health systems.

Professor Simcha Jong

Professors Simcha Jong (Faculty of Science, Leiden University) and Rifat Atun (Harvard University TH Chan School of Public Health) convened an exploratory workshop on 17 April 2017 at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies in Cambridge, MA to discuss challenges for health systems in realising the potential of precision medicine. The workshop brought together physicians, scientists, health system researchers, policy makers, and representatives from business.


The day started with introductory remarks by professors Simcha Jong and Rifat Atun.  Professor Mark Caulfield then presented on his work as Chief Scientist of Genomics England and efforts to bring routine genomic medicine into the UK National Health Service with an initial focus on rare hereditary diseases. Professor Robert C Green of the Broad Institute and Harvard Medical School continued this discussion, focusing on his group’s efforts to define and measure the clinical utility of genomic medicine. The discussion then moved on to issues around the implementation of precision medicine in oncology care in the US (Lindsay Frazier of Harvard Medical School and Dana-Farber) and in low- and middle- income countries (Anita Wagner of Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim). The final disease case study centred on a new cloud-based infectious disease management system c360 that connects advanced molecular diagnostics devices used in genotyping infectious diseases such as tuberculosis (Ellen Jo Barron, Executive Director Medical Affairs at Cepheid and Professor Emerita at Stanford Medical School).

The afternoon’s discussions focused on general health system challenges facing precision medicine. Focusing on how big data can be used to advance precision medicine, Joshua Mandel of Verily (Google Life Sciences) elaborated on NIH’s Sync for Science Initiative, which provides patients tools to extract and transfer electronic health record data and Stephane Verguet (Assistant Professor at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health) discussed his work on how big data can be used in optimising the design of health systems. Ann Chen Wu (Director of the PRecisiOn Medicine Translational Research Center and Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School) highlighted payment hurdles that remain around the reimbursement of costly precision medicine diagnostics services. The workshop concluded with discussions led by Ricardo Leite (Portuguese MP and Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Health), and Adriano Massuda (Ex Vice Minister of Health for Innovation and New Technologies of Brazil) about the role policy makers can play in advancing the precision medicine agenda for health systems.