Heretic No Longer? Meet Michael Joyner, Precision Medicine’s Critic-in-Chief

Michael Joyner, Anesthesiologist, Professor, Mayo Clinic

Bio and Contact Info


00:00 Why are you against precision medicine?

07:52 How do you see your role? Are you an activist?

11:22 Who is the villain here?

17:27 How would you spend the NIH budget?

20:50 Separating the “ought” from the “is”

30:57 How will history view the Human Genome Project?

35:36 “I’m now less of a heretic."

In 2016, after President Obama announced the Cancer Moonshot in the State of the Union, a very outspoken physician researcher from the Mayo Clinic penned an open letter to Vice President Biden criticizing the project and proposing the money be better spent other ways. It included these lines:

“The old idea from the 1990s and 2000s that with genomics we could understand the genetic causes of cancer has been largely disappointed. In 2005 the head of the NCI boldly predicted that as a result of what has come to be branded as “Precision Medicine”, death and suffering from cancer could be eliminated by 2015. Since that time the statistics have barely budged.”

Michael Joyner, the author of this letter and our guest today, has been “calling the bluff” of precision medicine for several years now. Anyone who frequents Twitter will no doubt have encountered his relentless game of offense in attacking what he calls the “underperforming” narrative of precision medicine.

“Genomic medicine or precision medicine is just lacking for the vast majority of non-communicable diseases that kill most of us,” he states at the outset of today’s interview.

We’re excited to have Michael on the program to share his views in a longer form. Good science is science that is continually challenged and not turned into dogma. And “Precision Medicine,” being promoted from the highest levels of government and continually reinforced by an NIH Director who was himself a genomicist, has had as good a chance as any narrative in the history of science of becoming dogma.

Was Michael always a critic of the genomic approach or was there a moment when he grew disillusioned? What alternative(s) does he propose? Today we attempt to hear out his story and offer a couple challenges to his line of critique.

Michael does not just talk the talk (here is his most recent opinion piece), he also walks the walk. He’s a prolific researcher at the Mayo Clinic working in the direction that he thinks we should go: behavior modeling and research into physiology.

Note: Dr. Joyner’s statements on precision medicine are his own viewpoint and do not represent Mayo Clinic’s institutional view. When he shares his position, he is speaking on his own behalf and not for Mayo Clinic.

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