Precision medicine is a hot topic in health care and in scientific research. President Obama spoke about it in his State of the Union Address on January 22, and the White House quickly followed up with details about the President’s Precision Medicine Initiative ―a  $215 million investment that is aimed at accelerating biomedical discoveries and dramatically improving treatment options for a number of diseases.

Other than describing the Precision Medicine Initiative as “delivering the right treatment at the right time,” the president provided few specifics. However, Jo Handelsman, associate director for science at the White House Office of Science and Technology, offered a few details on the administration’s website. Handelsman referred to the therapeutic approach for most ailments as “one-size-fits-all” and ineffective.766

The gathering included genetics experts, patients, academics and government officials. Towering over everyone was basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who as a cancer patient was treated using precision medicine.

A human genome can be sequenced by machine for as little as $1,000, down from $400 million 15 years ago. Increased computing power means researchers can sort through reams of sequencing data and health records to find patterns linking specific genes to diseases.Drugs that would attack these new genetic targets promise to modify the course of diseases, if not cure them, researchers say. But there would still be years of work to develop the drugs and prove they are safe and effective.

International Rare Disease Day is a moment to raise awareness of under-the-radar conditions that don’t have huge support groups . The White House initiative is slated to use genome sequencing on a cohort of 1 million Americans to further assess its value in delivering the right treatments, and it may ultimately enhance that awareness.