PCORI Research Priorities, Will They Support Personalized Medicine?

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The Board of Directors of the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) met last week, outlined research priorities, and asked for public feedback. What I found most interesting, and a little disheartening, is that the priorities are drafted in vague language, making it difficult to determine how they may (or may not) support personalized medicine.

I hope that as PCORI moves forward, it will give assurance to the Personalized Medicine Coalition (PMC) and other stakeholders that its research supports personalized medicine, as was the intent of Congress at the time of the Institute’s formation.

Specifically, research conducted in the category, “Comparative Assessment of Options for Prevention, Diagnosis, and Treatment,” will compare treatments, but at what level?  Researchers now know more about individual response to some drugs based on biomarker information. For example, when comparing a red pill to a blue pill, it is imperative that biomarker information be included in those examinations, especially when biomarker information is in the label for the drug. A list of drugs with biomarker information in the label can be found on pages 20-25 of The Case for Personalized Medicine, 3rd edition. But, without clearly defining the details of PCORI’s research, we really can’t know whether or how the Institute will consider biomarker information in its priorities and research agenda.

The research priority “Improving Healthcare System can support patient-centered care through innovations, but how? PMC suggests that the research be predictive, preventative, personalized and participatory. By emphasizing the “4Ps,” health system evaluation can support personalized medicine. However, without getting more specific about research priorities, we don’t know whether PCORI will include research that addresses these aspects of care delivery.

To support personalized medicine, the “Communication and Dissemination Research” priority should require researchers to answer one question: “Why does this treatment work and for whom?” (or, more frequently, “How likely is this treatment to work for me, and what are the potential trade-offs?”).  It is not enough, in the PMC’s opinion, to say that one therapy works for most people. PMC suggests that the research should explain why a therapy works (or is more likely to work) and for whom. For example, in research comparing red and blue pills, the communication and dissemination of the research results should stress that although the red pill works for most, the blue pill is particularly effective for people with a specific biomarker.

We are at a pivotal stage in the design of an entity that is tasked with assisting patients, clinicians, purchasers and policymakers in making informed, evidenced-based health decisions. PCORI could foster research that answers the important questions about what interventions work, and for whom. Or, PCORI could be another investigator-driven research institute that allows funded researchers to pursue questions of great scientific import, regardless of their practicality. Such a mission would be redundant with many others, most notably the National Institutes of Health, would be less likely to result in a cohesive national research program, and less likely to ensure personalized medicine is appropriately integrated.

It is my hope that PCORI supports the science that will drive personalized medicine forward, and will engage stakeholders in driving personalized medicine forward, by proposing specific research priorities and research questions to get answers to the questions that science, medicine and, ultimately, patients demand.

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