Vanderbilt, Google to Build Obama Precision Medicine Cohort

  • Initiative seeks 1 million volunteers to join research effort
  • NIH has $200 million in funding to study personalized medicine

The National Institutes of Health has given a grant to Vanderbilt University and Alphabet Inc.’s Verily, formerly known as Google Life Sciences, to recruit volunteers to participate in President Barack Obama’s initiative to help develop personalized therapies for diseases including cancer.

Vanderbilt and Verily will build an online portal to find and enroll people who want to be part of the 1 million-strong cohort, providing genetic and health data that will help develop precision medicines. Congress has approved more than $200 million in funding for the initiative, which was first announced by Obama in January 2015.

“Every patient’s data is siloed; it’s in a hospital here, a hospital there, a doctor here,” Obama said at a White House meeting Thursday on precision medicine. Scientists will more easily be able to identify patterns in rare diseases if they can look at a million-person database of diverse patients, he said.

Vanderbilt, advised by Verily, will seek to recruit 50,000 volunteers by the end of the year, NIH Director Francis Collins said on a conference call Wednesday with reporters. The Department of Veterans Affairs also is enrolling a group of more than 450,000 veterans and active-duty military personnel.

“We want to enable any person to be able to raise their hand and participate,” Collins said. Early volunteers will be able to take part in deciding what sorts of health data should be collected and what information will be shared with participants, he said.

Alphabet has been making a push into health technology and research. Besides Verily, which operates as a life-sciences research group, the Mountain View, California-based holding company has backed an anti-aging biotechnology firm called Calico, and its artificial intelligence company DeepMind Technologies Ltd. has formed a health unit to build medical software.

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