SANTIAGO, Chile—The inauguration last month of the Center of Excellence in Precision Medicine marked the opening of another frontier in the move toward more individualized approaches to treating diseases based on genetic information. The center, also known as Centro de Excelencia en Medicina de Precisión (CEMP), was launched at a ceremony on July 8 with a mission to develop new technologies for molecular cancer diagnosis that are more exact and less invasive. The initial focus of the center, which is the result of a partnership between Pfizer and the Chilean government, will be the development of treatments for lung cancer, which has a high rate of incidence in the region.
“CEMP is the result of a joint effort between the Chilean government and Pfizer at a global and local level, which showcases our mutual interest in raising the level of applied science done in our country and in promoting Chile as an innovation hub in terms of R&D,” said Pfizer Chile General Manager Carlos Murillo.
The Chilean government and Pfizer are investing roughly $21 million in CEMP. The Chilean Economic Development Agency will provide co-financing of $7 million over four years through its program to attract international Centers of Excellence and transform Chile into a hub for research, development and innovation in the region. Pfizer will provide another $14 million to support the center’s development and operations.
Thermo Fisher Scientific will join Pfizer as an additional corporate partner in the center’s initial lung cancer sequencing project. The biotech firm, which was selected by Pfizer as the diagnostic partner, will provide access to its ION personal genome machine (PGM), a genetic sequencer, and Oncomine reagents. The PGM technology will enable clinicians to analyze the DNA of tumors and gain a better understanding of the disease in individual patients, allowing for more personalized treatment practices based on the patient’s genetic information. Sequencing for the project will take place in multiple locations, including a research hospital in Brazil, Universidad Mayor in Chile and CEMP. Thermo Fisher reports that it is investing $3 million in the project.
“We are being brought to the table as the diagnostic partner in the equation, and part of that involves playing an advisory role both in the clinical process and in the actual practice of care,” Mike Nolan, vice president and general manager of oncology at Thermo Fisher Scientific, tells DDNews. “We are deploying experts locally to help with the educational process for those who will be using the technology, helping them to understand when to order tests, why to order tests and what to do with the genetic information when it comes back.”
Sylvia Varela, president of Pfizer Oncology for Latin America, noted in a statement following the inauguration of the center that the partners behind the institution aim to ensure that its research is on par with the leading research centers in the world. “At Pfizer, our priority is to develop innovative therapies that improve and prolong the lives of patients. CEMP, which opens its doors today in Santiago, illustrates that commitment in a very definite way,” she wrote. “Precision medicine offers one of the best opportunities we have to develop medicines that have a greater positive impact on patients.”
Chile provides a particularly appealing environment for Pfizer and Thermo Fisher to invest in the advancement of precision medicine, says Nolan. “This new precision medicine approach can actually move forward faster in smaller countries like Korea, Taiwan and Chile, because the governments are in some ways more flexible and open to concepts and policies that will help advance care,” he says. “The Chilean government is allowing for a much faster timeline than you might experience in the U.S. or Europe, and they are really working together with industrial partners to develop treatments that will help the local population.” Even with a faster timeline, however, those involved in the founding of the center say the studies conducted there will be designed to comply with the strictest protocols and international standards required for the approval of new technologies by international regulatory agencies.
Marcela Angulo, the Chilean Economic Development Agency’s manager for technological capabilities, said that the launch of CEMP is a major boost to the nation’s efforts to become a regional research hub. “In Chile, we have very good scientific productivity,” he said. “However, we have not been able to transform that knowledge into actual products and services that improve both the productivity of industries and the quality of life of people. By developing this type of strategic partnerships, we will be able to further our country’s capabilities for research, development and innovation of excellence, as well as position Chile in the map of innovation centers at a regional and global level.”