FDA Launches precisionFDA to Harness the Power of Scientific Collaboration

By: Taha A. Kass-Hout, M.D., M.S. and Elaine Johanson

Imagine a world where doctors have at their fingertips the information that allows them to individualize a diagnosis, treatment or even a cure for a person based on their genes. That’s what President Obama envisioned when he announced his Precision Medicine Initiative earlier this year. Today, with the launch of FDA’s precisionFDA web platform, we’re a step closer to achieving that vision.

Taha Kass-Hout

Taha A. Kass-Hout, M.D., M.S., Chief Health Informatics Officer and Director of FDA’s Office of Health Informatics.

precisionFDA is an online, cloud-based, portal that will allow scientists from industry, academia, government and other partners to come together to foster innovation and develop the science behind a method of “reading” DNA known as next-generation sequencing (or NGS). Next Generation Sequencing allows scientists to compile a vast amount of data on a person’s exact order or sequence of DNA. Recognizing that each person’s DNA is slightly different, scientists can look for meaningful differences in DNA that can be used to suggest a person’s risk of disease, possible response to treatment and assess their current state of health. Ultimately, what we learn about these differences could be used to design a treatment tailored to a specific individual.

The precisionFDA platform is a part of this larger effort and through its use we want to help scientists work toward the most accurate and meaningful discoveries. precisionFDA users will have access to a number of important tools to help them do this. These tools include reference genomes, such as “Genome in the Bottle,” a reference sample of DNA for validating human genome sequences developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Users will also be able to compare their results to previously validated reference results as well as share their results with other users, track changes and obtain feedback.

Elaine Johanson

Elaine Johanson, precisionFDA Project Manager.

Through such collaboration we hope to improve the quality and accuracy of genomic tests – work that will ultimately benefit patients.

Over the coming months we will engage users in improving the usability, openness and transparency of precisionFDA. One way we’ll achieve that is by placing the code for the precisionFDA portal on the world’s largest open source software repository, GitHub, so the community can further enhance precisionFDA’s features.

precisionFDA leverages our experience establishing openFDA, an online community that provides easy access to our public datasets. Since its launch in 2014, openFDA has already resulted in many novel ways to use, integrate and analyze FDA safety information. We’re confident that employing such a collaborative approach to DNA data will yield important advances in our understanding of this fast-growing scientific field, information that will ultimately be used to develop new diagnostics, treatments and even cures for patients.

Taha A. Kass-Hout, M.D., M.S., is FDA’s Chief Health Informatics Officer and Director of FDA’s Office of Health Informatics. Elaine Johanson is the precisionFDA Project Manager.