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CDC's Genomics Office Faces Steep Cut

By Matt Jones

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Funding for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's lead genomics office will be cut almost entirely as part of an effort to trim costs under the White House's proposed budget for 2012, which the Obama Administration released early this week.

The White House's budget plan is aimed at making strategic investments in some research and development areas — boosting the budget of the National Institutes of Health, for example — while making some focused cuts and across-the-board freezes to reduce the plan's impact on the deficit.

In one of these strategic cuts, the proposal for the budget at the Department of Health and Human Services would cut funding at CDC's Office of Public Health Genomics by 90 percent compared to 2010. Under the plan, funding for genomics programs at CDC will fall from $11.6 million to $750,000, although some of its other research areas and activities involve using genomics technologies.

"CDC genomic activities overlap with other federal agencies, and CDC will focus the staff on the implementation of proven genomic applications to areas of public health importance," CDC explained in its budget justification.

The cuts to genomics were just a few among many at CDC, which requested a total budget of $11.26 billion for 2012, an increase from the $10.88 billion it received in 2010. The increase funding at the agency was requested for the Affordable Care Act's prevention and public health funding, spending on vaccines, and increasing and replacing the Strategic National Stockpile of medical countermeasures, among other efforts.

CDC Senior Press Officer Karen Hunter told GenomeWeb Daily News in an e-mail that OPHG will continue to focus on its efforts in three areas in spite of the budget cut.

Hunter said OPHG will "provide public health genomics expertise to the agency and public health partners as relevant to CDCs mission"; inform CDC "about emerging genomic applications anticipated to impact the health of the population and issues to CDC's mission"; and it will "facilitate the implementation of genomics with CDC programs, other agencies, and external partners in order to improve population health."

She also said that "the restructured OPHG will continue to work closely with genomics experts and programs that are already integrated throughout CDC, in areas such as laboratory science, birth defects, chronic and infectious diseases, and occupational and environmental health."

Given that OPHG plans to continue efforts in those areas, it is not immediately clear which of its ongoing programs will be either scaled back or cut entirely.

Established in 1997, OPHG is involved in several areas where genomics and public health overlap. In 2004, CDC launched the Evaluation of Genomic Applications in Practice and Prevention (EGAPP) initiative to establish and test processes for evaluating genetic tests and other genomics technologies for use in clinical and public health practice. A central aim of this program is to provide objective information and science-based recommendations about the utility or safety of genetic tests.

EGAPP has issued recommendations on testing technologies for biomarker-based tests for breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, and colorectal cancer, and pharmacogenomic tests for use in treating depression and chemotherapy, among others.

OPHG also undertook a collaborative initiative involving the public health sector and the National Cancer Institute, called the Genomic Applications in Practice and Prevention Network (GAPPNet), to speed up and streamline the use of validated knowledge about genetic tests, technologies, and family history.

In 1998, the genomics office started the Human Genome Epidemiology Network (HuGENet) to assist in translating genetic research findings into preventive medicine by advancing ways to use genetic variation data.

OPHG also started the Family History Public Health Initiative, which conducts research to develop and evaluate the use of family history strategies and promote its use to public health officials.

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