China aims precision medicine plans at chronic diseases

Not to be outdone by the United States, China plans to undertake its own national precision-medicine initiative, and expects to have a far easier time finding millions of contributors to a gene database.

While the U.S. initiative is focused on cancer, China's is to pinpoint treatments for its most-fatal and widely distributed problem: chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes as well as cancer, state-run China Daily reports.

The head of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences said the policies and measures for the initiative would be released soon, but gave no indication of how much the initiative would cost.

Last January, the U.S. National Institutes of Health announced the first-of-its-kind national initiative with $215 million in funding. The venture was considered ambitious because it needed to collect genes from at least 1 million people for a health data pool.

Cao Xuetao, the academy's president, told China Daily that China's data pool would be similar to the NIH plan, but "it's no big deal to cover several million people, much bigger than the U.S. plan." China has a population of more than 1.2 billion, nearly four times larger than the U.S.

China's biggest problem, Cao said, is lack of a data-sharing mechanism, its work now concentrated in the nation's large hospitals that maintain gene banks of their own patients.

Both plans are aimed at collecting enough genetic information that physicians and drugmakers would be able to fashion the best treatment for individual patients, and with the ability to monitor its effectiveness and make changes as necessary.

As with the U.S. plan, China expects precision medicine to lower health costs in the long run, in some cases by coming up with preventative treatments. China's plan is to use the genetic data to develop 8 to 10 precise treatments for each disease and make them available nationwide.

The work relies on combining advanced genetics, molecular imaging and bioinformatics to pinpoint a treatment, taking the guesswork out of the equation and avoiding the costly trial and error approach.

Academy Vice President Zhan Qimin told China Daily the initiative would include research and development of a new set of drugs and equipment, enhancing China's capabilities in the area of preventing major diseases and lowering the costs that go along with them.

- here's the story from China Daily