Policy, BioPharma

What could the White House’s precision medicine love fest mean for the 2016 elections?

We’re heading into the 2016 elections, after all, where we’ve got candidates on both sides of the aisle reviling the drug pricing of the pharmaceutical industry. The Precision Medicine Initiative could help convince the public that the biopharmaceutical industry isn’t completely stuffed with bad guys.

It’s rather fascinating that in Obama’s waning days of presidency, one of his pet projects is to bring precision medicine to the broader public’s attention. This comes in contrast, somewhat, with the 2016 electioneers reviling the broader biopharmaceutical industry – thanks to the public controversy around drug pricing.

The Precision Medicine Initiative is a publicity stunt for this important form of medical therapy – but this precision medicine love fest is unquestionably good biopharma PR.

We’re heading into the 2016 elections, after all, where we’ve got candidates on both sides of the aisle reviling the drug pricing of the pharmaceutical industry. Donald Trump, for one, laughably says he can save as much as $300 billion per year in prescription drugs. Hillary Clinton’s pricing stance is based around improving the competitive environment for drugmakers.

Whether or not their approach to the costs of prescription drugs is salient, in these post Martin Shkreli days, anything related to big pharma is generally under attack. However, much of these costs are attributed to R&D to develop newer, more advanced drugs.

The Precision Medicine Initiative could help convince the public that the biopharmaceutical industry isn’t completely stuffed with bad guys. This effort could bring light to the important good work going on in genomics and biotechnology – and bringing great science to the bedside. And it could direct voters toward the candidate that has the most rational approach to medical science.

On this one year anniversary of the Precision Medicine Initiative, Obama called this “an extraordinarily exciting time in medicine and the biological sciences,” spelling out the potential implications of mapping and plumbing the human genome.

He has committed some $215 million of government funding – peanuts, really, when placed in broad perspective. That oft-cited Tufts study says, after all, that the cost to develop a single drug is $2.6 billion. And he wants to enroll 1 million volunteers to get their genome sequenced – with 79,000 completed this year.

And the media reaction has been expansive. Every news outlet has covered the announcement – and the criticisms are at a minimum.

The reaction is actually quite distinct from the perception of Vice President Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot 2020 program – which has been considered unrealistic by many. But the Precision Medicine Initiative seems to be in the media’s good graces these days.

While Forbes is characteristically realistic about the dollars dedicated to precision medicine, Matthew Herper says the efforts in Washington remain “mildly cool” – thanks to the “PR Fest” potentially being able to speed up medical research.

And CBS considers this a “hugely ambitious effort” to get those 1 million genomes in by 2019, which is a powerful message to sell to the broader public.

After all, a year ago, who knew about precision medicine? The industry, sure, and the growing cohort of engaged patients. But outside of those in the know, this was a largely niche pursuit. But in the year since the Precision Medicine Initiative was announced, biopharma markets tumbled in the wake of the pricing scandals brought on by Turing Pharmaceuticals and Valeant Pharmaceuticals. Politicians are incorporating pricing issues into their respective platforms.

Whether those opposing Obama will see the merit in the Precision Medicine Initiative is up for debate. But broader public education about precision medicine – and the overarching promise of bioscience – can only be a good thing for the industry.

Photo: Getty Images/ Drew Angerer