Getting personal in Arizona

Piper Trust, Flinn Foundation fund personalized medicine initiative

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PHOENIX, Ariz.—Under the auspices of the new Partnership for Personalized Medicine, two Arizona-based philanthropic organizations have committed $45 million to push forward the goal of personalized molecular diagnostics. One of the organizations, the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, has committed $35 million, while the Flinn Foundation has granted $10 million.

The overriding aim of the effort is to bring together a wide range of resources to advance a global personalized medicine initiative. Dr. Lee Hartwell, a 2001 Nobel laureate and director of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, has been recruited to lead this effort. The Hutchinson Center, based in Seattle, is a leader in using molecular diagnostics for the early detection and clinical management of cancer and other diseases.
He will retain his position in Seattle, but is adding to his plate the chairmanship of the Partnership for Personalized Medicine's executive committee, which includes Dr. George Poste, director of the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, and Dr. Jeffrey Trent, president and scientific director of the Arizona-based Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen).

Although the technologies to develop personalized diagnostic tests are already available, major barriers exist, according to Dr. Judy Jolley Mohraz, president and CEO of the Piper Trust, not the least of which are the expense of clinical trials and difficulty obtaining clinical samples. She says this new partnership will focus on developing, testing and validating new molecular diagnostic tools, as well as on the approval and distribution of these tools for widespread clinical use.

A key part of making this possible will be establishing a series of collaborative demonstration projects that integrate key health organizations, Mohraz says. That means drawing together scientists, clinicians, engineers, statisticians, insurers, regulators and more to work collectively to make healthcare more targeted and affordable.

"This is the first time, to my knowledge, that the clinicians and researchers and health economists and insurers and regulators are all going to sit around the same table and discuss how to fast-track whatever personalized medicine developments emerge," Mohraz adds. "And to discuss how to translate those developments as effectively and economically as possible to make them therapeutically relevant. This kind of systems approach is important for something as big as personalized medicine, but it also could be a model for many other discovery, development and other healthcare initiatives beyond just personalized medicine."

The cornerstone of the new partnership is the creation of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics, which will draw upon the scientific strengths of TGen and the Biodesign Institute—both entities will be contributing significant laboratory space to the partnership's effort.
The Piper Center will use bioinformatics and high-performance computing expertise at both institutions, existing nanotechnology and imaging expertise at the Biodesign Institute, and supercomputing resources through ASU's Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering. Also, an industrial-scale, high-throughput proteomics production facility will be created that will tap expertise at both TGen and the Biodesign Institute in the fields of robotics, protein analysis and computing.

While much of the Piper Trust's money is geared toward developing the personalized medicine center and coordinating with TGen and the Biodesign Institute, the Flinn money for this partnership—the Flinn Fund for Arizona Proteomics Research—has a more specifically proteomics slant.
About half of that $10 million will be available to promote research collaborations to leverage the state's significant institutional resources in this field, says John Murphy, president and CEO of the Flinn Foundation, explaining that "the Flinn Foundation's grant commitment to TGen will link Arizona's research universities, health care providers, research institutes and industry partners throughout the state to support the collection and storage of biospecimens and drive Arizona-centric demonstration projects."

The other half of the Flinn grant will support the creation of a high-throughput proteomics production facility, Murphy says.

In addition to the resources brought to bear by Piper Trust and Flinn Foundation, Hartwell's involvement will give the Piper Center access to the Hutchinson Center's experience in the areas of health economics and the design of clinical and public-health trials through consultative and collaborative relationships. 

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