Obama: New Research Models, Payment Incentives Needed

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By Jeannie Baumann

Oct. 13 — President Barack Obama called for rethinking research models and resolving “perverse incentives” in the health system that slow access to medical innovations.

“What we've been calling the Precision Medicine Initiative is really, How do we stitch together systems that can maximize the potential of research” in a way that improves outcomes for patients, Obama said Oct. 13.

The president discussed major medical research initiatives his administration has undertaken—including precision medicine and brain research—and touted his record for science and technology at the White House Frontiers Conference. Obama participated on a panel about the future of medicine during the day-long innovation conference held in Pittsburgh.

Data Sharing

He reiterated the administration's push to improve data sharing by harnessing the vast amount of genetic data being developed through advanced sequencing techniques.

Scientists in the past who wanted to pursue cancer research analyzed samples in isolation, he said. “We are now in a position where we can generate huge databases and as a consequence not only identify some of the specific causes of that cancer but also identify the kinds of genetic variants that might make you predisposed” to that type of cancer, Obama said.

Improving data sharing is also a top goal of the White House's cancer “moonshot” initiative to double the rate of progress in cancer treatments and prevention therapies. Cancer research has been one of the leading fields in advancing in precision medicine.

“What we're doing with the precision medicine initiative is to get a bunch of collaborators to start digitalizing, pooling and sharing their data,” Obama said.

Over time, the ability to study these large databases in precision medicine can help identify patients who are predisposed to certain conditions and have that information reach patients more quickly.

The largest part of the White House precision medicine initiative is a long–term, national research study led by the National Institutes of Health involving at least a million participants. The Obama administration officially renamed the study the “All of Us Research Program” in one of a series of announcements in conjunction with the Frontiers Conference. The administration also announced $86 million in awards for biomedical research in precision medicine and brain research.


Obama said his administration “is trying to figure out what are the perverse incentives that are set up in the health-care system that prevent” innovations in medicine from reaching patients earlier.

As part of this examination of incentives, Obama said his administration is promoting polices so patients understand they—not the institutions—own their own health data.

“Because once you understand that it's yours and you have agency in the process as you're looking for different treatment options,” patients can make more efficient treatment decisions “without constantly having to fill out paper work,” he said.

Secondly, Obama said, “to the extent that we are reimbursing doctors and hospitals and other providers based on outcomes rather than discrete services that are being provided, we can start incentivizing” holistic health-care systems, so patients aren't running around from center to center to get all the treatments they need for a certain disease or condition.

He also told the innovation conference attendees not to get discouraged if the pace of the government doesn't move as quickly as they're accustomed.

“I don’t want to just blow up the FDA,” he said, adding that the Food and Drug Administration has an important job to distinguish the “snake oil” from valid treatment options.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeannie Baumann in Washington at jbaumann@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Randy Kubetin at rkubetin@bna.com

For More Information

More information on the Frontiers Conference is at http://www.frontiersconference.org/.

More information on White House science and technology initiatives is at https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/10/13/fact-sheet-harnessing-possibilities-science-technology-and-innovation.

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