The Precision Medicine Initiative

Categories: General

This week, I got to do something that was personally and professionally hugely rewarding.

I Obama PMIwas able to join President Obama and key scientific and technology leaders in his administration for a Summit in Washington,  DC. The event included a major collaborative announcement on the President’s Precision Medicine Initiative, or PMI. This project brings together public- and private-sector organizations to design and build new technology for the healthcare sector.

This is a field that’s been a focus at Cloudera for years. We’ve long been convinced that big data and analytics are powerful tools for understanding disease, improving outcomes, containing cost and delivering better care where it’s needed most.

There are a number of ways that PMI technology and techniques are already making a difference in healthcare. We’re working with a number hospitals that are collecting data from bedside monitors and diagnostic devices, and using that data from many patients over time to discover patterns. Do a collection of attributes – the particular illness a patient has, age, medical history, circumstances in the hospital itself – correlate with acute events like heart attacks? What do readmits – patients who come back repeatedly for the same condition after being discharged from the hospital – have in common? By discovering those patterns, care providers can predict which patients are most at risk, and can deliver appropriate treatments before a patient’s condition worsens.

Our ability to sequence genomes – of ourselves, of the microbiome that surrounds us and more – is generating huge amounts of new data. It’s creating tremendous opportunities to analyze and understand disease onset and progression, as well as how and why people get and stay healthy. Genomics is a rich field for big data, and cancer researchers worldwide have only begun to develop and use tools to understand genomic data in diagnosing and treating cancers. Genomics will allow us to personalize medicine – to design treatments for single individuals, understanding their particular illness and environment.

It’s not just in delivery of care that data and analytics make a difference. Providing the right treatment to the right person at the right time improves outcomes (people get better faster) at lower cost. Precision medicine is a valuable tool in controlling growth in, and even reducing, healthcare spending.

Cloudera has worked closely, and extensively, with government agencies and academia almost since the company’s inception. Across the civilian sector and defense, big data technology has proven a powerful tool for doing better work at lower cost. We’ve even collaborated on health-related work. At the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, for example, analysis of patient records has helped reduce readmit rates.

Mike and DJ

We had not, before now, expressly joined the PMI. DJ Patil, the US Chief Data Scientist, and I have talked about the program a number of times. That’s the two of us in the picture, before the day’s program got underway. Cloudera has been quite interested, but we weren’t sure of the best way to engage. This week’s PMI Summit provided precisely the opportunity we needed to meet with the key players and understand how best to be part of this important program.

The President’s announcement on Thursday brought together a couple of hundred people from diverse organizations that have made a material commitment to innovations like these. More than 40 organizations, Cloudera included, made substantial new commitments of technology,  training, data, funding or other resources in support of PMI. There’s a fact sheet available on the White House briefing site with a great deal more detail on the Summit.

As part of that announcement, over three years, Cloudera has committed to make our big data platform available at no cost to 50 organizations conducting research on PMI-related topics. We will deliver free on-demand training to 1,000 people, helping them master and use new data and analytic tools to advance precision medicine.

We are an open source company. Free and open collaboration are fundamental to how we work. Accordingly, we aim to support researchers building open source tools and applications, who will publish their results in open forums. We are convinced that that openness will promote still more innovation, since others around the world will be able to build upon the work that the PMI community is doing.

In the coming weeks and months, we’ll announce projects and events that further promote collaboration – ways to build on existing open source technologies to speed up progress, and meetings with other stakeholders on the right data formats, tools and applications for the project. Look for some great sessions at upcoming conferences like Strata + Hadoop World!

I’m personally so excited about PMI because I think it’s one of the most obvious ways in which big data can make life better for real people. Understanding disease onset and progress can give us new clues on how to fight it. Catching the tidal wave of data coming from genomics and proteomics, and studying whole organisms instead of just anatomy, create whole new approaches to prevention and treatment. As the President said during his remarks: “The more data we have, the more we’re going to be able to learn.”

We’ll follow up shortly with details on the application process for Cloudera’s PMI program. We are proud to be part of the President’s initiative, and thrilled to be working with such an impressive group of collaborators.

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