Verily, Vanderbilt to test enrollment in U.S. Precision Medicine pilot

Francis Collins, Director of National Institutes of Health, takes part in a panel discussion titled "Accelerating Medical Research" at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California April 27, 2015. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

(Reuters) - The National Institutes of Health on Thursday named Verily, formerly Google Life Sciences, as adviser to Nashville’s Vanderbilt University in a pilot program to launch the Precision Medicine Initiative outlined by President Barack Obama last year.

The pilot program, which aims to enroll 79,000 U.S. participants by the end of this year, is the first phase of an ambitious program to mine medical data, including genetics, environmental factors and lifestyle, to develop better ways to treat or even prevent a wide range of diseases.

Vanderbilt and Verily are slated to test approaches for engaging and enrolling volunteers through a web portal.

The NIH plans for the “cohort program” to recruit by 2019 one million or more U.S. volunteers - including a wide spectrum of diverse participants from all age, economic and racial groups.

The initiative is designed to maximize results by tracking individual characteristics, instead of “medicine based on one size fits all,” NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins said on a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. It will look not only at genetic factors but also the role of environmental exposures and their impact on genetic predispositions.

The agency said more than 40 commitments to the project have emerged from a diverse array of nonprofits, universities, electronic health record vendors, technology companies, patient advocates and others.

The NIH is working with the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to partner with community health centers to bring underserved individuals, families, and communities into the program. HRSA is an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services.

It is also working to standardize applications to give individuals the ability to contribute their data and has established an institutional review board to monitor the project.

Reporting By Deena Beasley; Editing by Andrew Hay and Steve Orlofsky