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Weill Cornell will help lead national precision medicine effort

Friday, July 8, 2016

Photo of Dr. Mark RubinDr. Mark Rubin Weill Cornell Medicine's precision medicine efforts have been given a multi-million dollar boost as part of a new national program to engage a million US volunteers in a significant research effort.

Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and Weill Cornell Medicine, in collaboration with NewYork-Presbyterian and NYC Health + Hospitals/Harlem, have been awarded a grant from the NIH for approximately $4 million to enroll participants in the Cohort Program of President Barack Obama's Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) — a large-scale research effort to improve our ability to prevent and treat disease based on individual differences in lifestyle, environment and genetics. The five-year award is estimated to total $46.5 million, pending progress reviews and availability of funds.

Weill Cornell's efforts will be led by Dr. Mark Rubin, director of the Englander Institute for Precision Medicine and the Homer T. Hirst III Professor of Oncology in Pathology at Weill Cornell Medicine, and associate director of precision medicine for the Meyer Cancer Center.

"As doctors and scientists, we are committed to providing our patients with the very best, most cutting-edge care to ensure that illness isn't a barrier in their everyday lives," Rubin said  "This grant will enable us to detect and delineate the key genetic drivers of disease across the diverse population of patients we serve — and move us closer to fulfilling the promise of precision medicine."

CUMC is one of several medical centers that will provide expertise and infrastructure needed to launch the PMI Cohort Program. This landmark research effort aims to engage 1 million or more U.S. volunteers from the diversity of America in a significant research effort to improve our ability to advance precision medicine. The program seeks to extend the success of precision medicine in some cancers to many other diseases. Importantly, the program will focus not just on disease, but on ways to increase an individual's chances of remaining healthy throughout life.

"Columbia's university-wide commitment to pioneering research and clinical care in precision medicine coincides perfectly with the national priority established by President Obama to improve health and save lives, and we are deeply enthusiastic about being selected to help lead this effort," said Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger. "We believe that in years to come, our society will benefit immeasurably from the advances in medical science that will emerge from this collaboration among great academic medical centers across the nation."

"The PMI Cohort Program aligns perfectly with our own precision medicine effort, which we launched in 2015 in partnership with NewYork-Presbyterian and faculty from across Columbia University," said Lee Goldman, MD, Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine and Chief Executive, CUMC. "This award, in collaboration also with NewYork-Presbyterian, Weill Cornell, and our long-standing colleagues at NYC Health + Hospitals/Harlem, will extend our ongoing successes in taking an individualized approach to treating some cancers and rare genetic diseases to a broader range of human illnesses across the ethnically, culturally, and socioeconomically diverse population we serve. It will also enable us to make sure that research findings benefit our local population and beyond as quickly as possible."

"Cornell University has a distinguished legacy of leading scientific discoveries that address our greatest healthcare challenges," said Hunter R. Rawlings III, interim president of Cornell University. "The launch of this collaboration marks a turning point in our effort to conquer disease and to translate research discoveries into life-changing impact for communities in New York and around the world."

Photo of Drs. Rubin, Sboner, Beltran and ElementoTeam approach: Drs. Mark Rubin, Andrea Sboner, Himisha Beltran and Olivier Elemento "Precision medicine has the power to fundamentally change the way we understand and treat some of the world's most challenging diseases," said Dr. Augustine M.K. Choi, interim dean of Weill Cornell Medicine. "This NIH grant, and our critical work with colleagues from Columbia, NYC Health + Hospitals/Harlem and NewYork-Presbyterian, will ensure that we are better able to understand the key genetic and other biological drivers of disease and ultimately improve the lives of our patients. We are incredibly honored to be selected for this grant, and grateful to President Obama and the NIH for their bold vision."

"It's an incredible honor for our physicians and researchers to be a part of this historic initiative," said Dr. Steven J. Corwin, president and CEO of NewYork-Presbyterian. "As we delve into new research and discover new prevention and treatment options, this grant gives us a tremendous opportunity to continue to excel in our collective fight against cancer and all life-threatening diseases."

"The 'patient-powered' research that will result from our partnership with CUMC promises to help transform the way we achieve our mission to deliver equitable and culturally responsive care to the city's most vulnerable populations," said Ram Raju, MD, President and CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals. "Our collaboration with CUMC also underscores the critical role that the public hospital system plays in medical education and cutting-edge research to benefit the communities we serve."

"We are pleased and excited that the NIH has chosen the Columbia/Weill Cornell/NewYork-Presbyterian and Harlem Hospital collaboration as one of the partners in this ambitious and fundamentally important program," said Tom Maniatis, PhD, Director of the Columbia/NewYork-Presbyterian Precision Medicine Initiative and co-founder of the New York Genome Center. Dr. Maniatis is also the Isidore S. Edelman Professor and Chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at CUMC. "This award is a validation of our commitment to realize the vision of precision medicine, which identifies relationships between genetic, lifestyle and environmental differences in individuals, and the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of human diseases. This grant also recognizes the successful establishment of the Institute for Genomic Medicine (IGM) at Columbia by its Director, Dr. David Goldstein, who has demonstrated the reality of a precision medicine-based approach to treating children with rare, previously undiagnosed genetic disorders."

CUMC is one of four centers that have been designated as a regional PMI Cohort Program Healthcare Provider Organization (HPO). As an HPO, CUMC and its partners seek to enroll at least 150,000 volunteers by 2021. By engaging with a number of community organizations throughout New York City, this multicenter collaboration will help to ensure that participants in the PMI Cohort Program represent the geographic, ethnic, racial and socioeconomic diversity of the country that the NIH is hoping to achieve.