NIH awards $120M to Scripps, others, to enroll 350K participants in Precision Medicine Initiative via mobile apps

Scripps Research Institute, Vibrent Health, PatientsLikeMe, Sage Bionetworks, and Walgreens will help build apps and enroll participants

By Jonah Comstock

The National Institutes of Health announced a number of partners today who will receive a total of $55 million in grant money for 2016 to build the foundational structures of the White House’s Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI). The PMI Cohort Program includes five companies that make up the Participant Technologies Center, which will be responsible for creating mobile apps to enroll, consent, collect data from and communicate with PMI Cohort Program participants.

“This range of information at the scale of 1 million people from all walks of life will be an unprecedented resource for researchers working to understand all of the factors that influence health and disease,” NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins said in a statement. “Over time, data provided by participants will help us answer important health questions, such as why some people with elevated genetic and environmental risk factors for disease still manage to maintain good health, and how people suffering from a chronic illness can maintain the highest possible quality of life. The more we understand about individual differences, the better able we will be to effectively prevent and treat illness.”

In order to enroll as many people as possible, NIH is reaching out to potential enrollees both through participating healthcare providers and directly, which is where the Participant Technologies Center comes in. Two organizations have been awarded major grants in this area: The Scripps Research Institute in San Diego and Vibrent Health in Fairfax Virginia, developer of a B2B2C technology infrastructure called the Adaptive Platform for Personalized Engagement. Vibrent is led by CEO Praduman Jain, also heads up Vignet, a company that built an early smartphone hub for remore monitoring.

“We’re going to make this as easy as possible for people,” Jain told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “There’s only going to be one app. People won’t have to jump around to participate.”

Scripps and Vibrent will recieve $20 million in the first year, and a total of $120 million over the next five years. Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute and chief academic officer at Scripps Health, will lead the effort there, and his team will be responsible for enrolling 350,000 of the 1 million participants NIH is seeking.

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to help lead this far-reaching, transformative program of 1 million or more US participants with long-term follow up,” Topol said in a statement. “Our focus at STSI for the decade of its existence has been to advance individualized medicine. Using genomics, mobile apps and biosensors and providing data back to each participant, this study will set the foundation for new medical knowledge and ways of engaging people in research as citizen-scientists.”

In addition to Scripps and Vibrent, NIH has designated several sub-awardees which will share the $20 million award and work together on the Participant Technologies Center: Cambridge, Massachusetts-based online patient community platform PatientsLikeMe, Seattle-based Sage Bionetworks, which is best known for its work on Apple’s ResearchKit, and Walgreens. According to its own statement, Walgreens will allow its customers to enroll in the program at its stores, at Walgreens Healthcare Clinics, online through Walgreens.com and through the Walgreens mobile app.

Sage Bionetworks, meanwhile, “will be responsible for the patient consent and data governance related to the PMI Cohort Program’s software products, as well as the community outreach and participant engagement efforts of the Participant Technologies Center”, Sage said in a statement. They’ll also develop new ways of monitoring health factors using smartphones and wearable devices.

President Obama himself emphasized the importance of the initiative in a Boston Globe editorial published this morning.

“Precision medicine gives us the chance to marry what’s unique about America — our spirit of innovation, our courage to take risks, our collaborative instincts – with what’s unique about Americans – every individual’s distinctive genetic makeup, lifestyles, and health needs,” Obama wrote. “In doing so, we can keep ourselves, our families, and our nation healthier for generations to come.”

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