Making a name for itself

NCI contract allows Agencourt to expand its expertise in cancer genomics

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BEVERLY, Mass.—AgencourtBioscience Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of Beckman Coulter Inc., recentlywon a major sequencing contract from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) forthe company's Genomic Services division, after a competitive bidding process.Under the agreement, NCI will supply Agencourt with normal and cancer tumortissue samples and periodic lists of genes and targeted regions to besequenced.

The goal of the project is to provide NCI researchcollaborators with a consistent, cost-effective, high-throughput sequencingresource. NCI collaborators who are working on cancer genomics research mayrequest the sequencing of specific genes at any time. The initial term of thecontract is one year.

There is an option to renew for a second year, which islikely to happen, says Dr. Lynn Doucette-Stamm, vice president of businessdevelopment for Agencourt. "Basically, the second year would be very similar tothe first year—that's the way the contract is written. The main reason to havethe option for a second year is that the question will arise, 'Do we haveenough data that are publicly available yet?' And that's highly unlikely after onlya single year."

The other reason to make the second year a possibilityrather than a foregone conclusion, of course, is to give NCI a way to get outif it doesn't like Agencourt's work, Doucette-Stamm notes. But the company hada contract from NCI some years back for a different purpose and Agencourt was"very successful in meeting their need then, which we expect would be the casehere, too," she says.

NCI collaborators will submit sequence trace data to the National Center for BiotechnologyInformation (NCBI) and the base calls will be placed in a database managed bythe NCI. Agencourt will also develop a special Web site that is accessible byproject collaborators. This site, with the posted information, will allow NCIcollaborators to query the NCBI Trace database for additional metadata andrelate it to other experimental results and clinical data by bio-specimen ID.

One challenge is that researchers using this system would bescattered all over the country. Since there isn't a single distinct group workingon the data, Doucette-Stamm says, they needed to make sure the database is easyto use for anyone. Another distinguishing point of the online database, shesays, is that once sequencing is done, the data will be posted immediately,keeping the system as real-time as possible.

The field of cancer genomics is a key focus of AgencourtGenomic Services, and that is one reason for the company winning the biddingprocess for the contract, Doucette-Stamm notes. In late 2006, the companyannounced that its Genomic Services were integral in a Johns Hopkins study onthe genetic code for breast and colon cancers, and a widely publicized reporton that study was co-authored by James Hartigan, an Agencourt project manager.The research identified close to 200 mutated genes, now linked to thesecancers, most of which were not previously recognized as associated with tumorinitiation, growth, spread or control. More recently, in October, Agencourtfollowed up on that effort with some addition work with Johns Hopkins on breastand colon cancer that, among other things, catalogs the genetic changes thatoccur during tumorigenesis.

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