Big gene bank to anchor precision medicine

Updated: 2015-12-08 07:46

By Shan Juan(China Daily)

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China has been working closely on its national precision medicine initiative featuring a gene bank covering at least several million Chinese, said a top Chinese scientist.

Cao Xuetao, president of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College and a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said the initiative would comprise a series of policies and measures that are set to come out soon.

The concept of precision medicine is centered on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment strategies that take individual variability into consideration with the help of advanced technologies like modern genetics, molecular imaging and bioinformatics.

"It's of great significance for both the government and Chinese individuals, and aims to help detect the most effective treatments for individual patients and reduce the overall medical costs for the country," Cao told China Daily in a recent interview.

For example, it would help pinpoint the right medicine for the patient, thereby preventing unnecessary drug costs, he said.

Big gene bank to anchor precision medicine

The initiative has been recognized as one of the country's key science and technology projects under China's 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20).

Unlike that of the United States, the Chinese initiative focuses on widespread chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes, which have become top killer diseases here, he said.

The US unveiled its precision medicine initiative in January. The $215 million project is focused on precise cancer treatment and setting up a health data pool covering 1 million or more Americans.

"We are setting up a similar data pool of the Chinese, and it's no big deal to cover several million people, much bigger than that in the US plan," he said.

Zhan Qimin, vice-president of the academy, said that under the initiative, China would research and develop a group of new drugs and medical appliances to treat the targeted diseases.

"That will substantially enhance the nation's medical capacity in major disease prevention and treatment," he said.

To help with the clinical side, eight to 10 precision medicine treatment plans are expected to be made for each targeted disease and introduced nationwide, he added.

But Zhan said the lack of a health (gene) data sharing mechanism poses a hurdle to the development of precision medicine that covers both medical and data sciences.

Cao said each large hospital currently has a gene bank of its own patients.

(China Daily 12/08/2015 page3)