A new version of the Genomics and Personalized Medicine Act, which US presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama introduced last year, has arrived in the US Congress. A major difference in the latest bill, which is sponsored by Patrick Kennedy, the Representative for Rhode Island, is its proposed introduction of tax incentives for research into personalised medicine.

Rep Kennedy says that his Genomics and Personalized Medicine Act of 2008 (HR 6498) aims to “secure the promise of personalised medicine for all Americans by expanding and accelerating genomics research and initiatives to improve the accuracy of disease diagnosis, increase the safety of drugs and identify novel treatments.” It is similar to Sen Obama’s 2007 bill (S 976), which it replaces, in its proposals to set up a Genomics and Personalized Medicine Interagency Working Group (IWG), a national biobanking database and funding to improve diagnosis, treatment and counselling relating to genetic conditions.

However, Rep Kennedy’s bill would also establish tax and test credits for research expenses incurred by drug and device makers in the development of companion diagnostic tests. The tax credit would be equal to the research expenses paid or incurred by the firm in connection with the development of a qualified test, says the bill, which is now being examined by two House committees - Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce.

Both Rep Kennedy’s and Sen Obama’s bills would also establish and implement a “decision matrix” aimed at improving the oversight and regulation of genetic tests, but here they clash with yet another bill, the Laboratory Test Improvements Act (S 736), which is co-sponsored by Rep Kennedy’s father, Senator Edward Kennedy. The Kennedy Sr and Obama bills differ in the way they would regulate genetic tests, and this conflict, plus the continued delays with getting Congressional approval for the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), led to both Senate bills failing to progress through the Senate Health, Labor, Education and Pensions (HELP) Committee, which is chaired by Sen Kennedy.

- GINA, which prohibits genetic discrimination by health insurers and employers, was first introduced into Congress 13 years ago but was only signed into law by President George W Bush this May. Sen Kennedy said the new law would “open the door to modern medical progress for millions and millions of Americans,” and that it is also “the first civil rights bill of the new century of the life sciences.” The Act will come fully into effect in November 2009.