California leads the way in precision medicine, thanks in no small part to you – CALmatters

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Precision medicine uses some of the world’s most sophisticated technologies, but the goal is quite simple: Find the root causes of each patient’s unique condition and apply the best, most precise treatments.

A good example is cancer, which is not one condition but many. Each patient’s disease is different, but only recently have we been able to pinpoint these distinctions. 

Genomic diagnostics, and other advanced tests, can read a patient’s tumor DNA and identify the mutations driving his or her cancer. With this information, doctors can prescribe targeted therapies that can help control the disease.

But that’s just the beginning. In addition to helping clinicians find the best cancer therapies, precision medicine can also determine, in almost real-time, whether those treatments are working, helping oncologists make midcourse corrections as needed. 

Genomic sequencing and other approaches can also delineate a patient’s risk of recurrence. Emerging liquid biopsy technology may eventually detect cancer at its earliest, most treatable, stages with a simple blood test. 

Cancer is just one of many examples. 

Genomic sequencing is starting to benefit children with rare diseases. A decade ago, families could wait months or years during the diagnosis odyssey to find out which disease is debilitating their child. 

Last year, the Rady Children’s Institute for Genomic Medicine, in San Diego, produced a genomic diagnosis in 19.5 hours, a Guinness World Record. 

As sequencing becomes more widely accepted, families will receive these critical diagnoses in days, rather than months. 

Precision medicine has applications in heart disease, neurodegenerative conditions, diabetes, autoimmune diseases and many other conditions. It’s a new toolbox clinicians can use to find out exactly what ails us and prescribe the best treatments, therapies, and in some cases even cures without time spent on less effective and potentially costly care.

At the California Life Sciences Association, we have been following precision medicine’s advances with great excitement. We are pleased to have worked closely with the California Legislature, and both Gov. Jerry Brown and Gov. Gavin Newsom, to encourage new investment, and help make these life-saving approaches available to more patients.

In 2015, Gov. Brown’s office launched the California Initiative to Advance Precision Medicine, a $3 million partnership between the state, California universities and other public and private organizations to accelerate the move to personalized medicine. 

This initiative has accelerated the life sciences community’s ability to translate basic science into new diagnostics and treatments. California’s support for precision medicine has encouraged private investment, creating a multiplier effect to help ensure the state’s continuing life sciences leadership.

Thanks to continued support over the past years by the Legislature, investment from the state has grown to $53 million to advance the California initiative. This noble endeavor will give scientists more resources to develop even better precision diagnostics and treatments.

The $215 billion 2019-2020 state budget extends the California Initiative to Advance PrecisionMedicine’s authority to fund projects until June 2025. This extension means it can set longer term goals for the California-based precision medicine innovations it aims to foster. 

At the request of the life sciences sector, Gov. Newsom wisely removed restrictions on the initiative’s ability to fund projects, providing flexibility on how it distributes resources to researchers up-and-down the state. We applaud the governor for recognizing the importance of precision medicine and for his ongoing support for California’s life sciences community.

In my association’s 2019 California Life Sciences Industry Report, we write that the Golden State has the most robust life sciences community in the world, with over 3,400 firms employing 311,000 people. 

Each year, this life sciences ecosystem advances thousands of new medicines, devices, diagnostics and other medical interventions. Continued investment in precision medicine will help biomedical innovators continue to move the needle on improving care for patients.

California is a biomedical juggernaut, and the precision medicine research being funded today will impact patients around the world. This leadership should be a great source of pride for every Californian.

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Mike Guerra is president and CEO of California Life Sciences Association (CLSA), which helps advance public policies that foster and promote medical innovation, [email protected] He wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

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