Two are better than one

Duke, LabCorp combine forces to create The Biomarker Factory

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DURHAM, N.C.—Bringing their respective expertise together for a common effort, Duke University Medical Center and Laboratory Corp. of America Holdings (LabCorp) are forming a joint venture to commercialize new biomarkers.

Dubbed The Biomarker Factory, the collaboration combines Duke's excellence in biomarker discovery and validation with LabCorp's expertise in the development and commercialization of innovative diagnostic and laboratory tools.

The new entity is designed to speed the translation of newly discovered biomarkers into widely available clinical tools that can measure individual therapeutic responses, predict disease progression, and evaluate any number of biologic or disease-causing processes.
The Biomarker Factory will make use of hundreds of thousands of biological samples contributed by Duke, as well as the infrastructure already in place in a Duke-led, large-scale epidemiology study known as MURDOCK that is recruiting 50,000 people into a registry.

The Biomarker Factory will also capitalize on LabCorp's biorepository being developed to discover and validate biomarkers in human disease. Financial terms of the joint venture were not disclosed.

Duke researchers anticipate that LabCorp will be an outstanding partner on both a business and scientific front, says Dr. Rob Califf, vice chancellor for clinical research and director of the Duke Translational Medicine Institute.

Biomarkers are being used in developing treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer's, heart disease, breast and lung cancer. Recent groundbreaking research by Duke scientists, John McHutchison and David Goldstein demonstrated how biomarkers can give critical information about the likelihood that a patient will benefit from treatment for hepatitis C, Califf says.

"Biomarkers give us clues about what to expect about the risk of an illness, its future course and response to treatment, including benefits and harms," he says.

According to Califf, the collaboration is comprised of two basic aspects. The first will include conducting laboratory analyses and collecting blood samples from people in an effort to develop biological markers. He notes that this will be an intensive, long-term effort. The second aspect, according to Califf, will involve working with LabCorp to provide better information to doctors and patients about the laboratory tests being conducted.

LabCorp is the second largest laboratory-testing corporation in the United States and has the capabilities to influence doctors' offices and hospitals across the country, Califf also points out. With a solid reputation, LabCorp is a "good scientific platform to be collaborating with," he adds.

Dr. Victor J. Dzau, chancellor for health affairs at Duke University, and CEO of the Duke University Health System, points out that The Biomarker Factory is at the intersection of translational medicine and personalized medicine.

"By consolidating our collective strengths, this joint venture will be uniquely positioned to accelerate the translation of scientific discoveries into clinical practice, and create the potential for a major step forward in our pursuit of personalized medicine," he says.

Dzau points out that there are myriad financial benefits of collaborating with a company like LabCorp, including the fact that it provides a source of funding that is traditionally not supported by federal grants.

"I think with everything we do, we want to help patients, improve health and improve society," he says. "(This collaboration) is about medicine, about research and about finding ways to improve health—this is going to be fantastic."

David P. King, chairman and CEO of LabCorp, notes that The Biomarker Factory will position Duke and LabCorp on an end-to-end pathway from the research bench to the physician office.

"The Biomarker Factory will contribute greatly to the realization of the promise of individualized medicine and will assist physicians in understanding how to use newly developed biomarkers to improve patient outcomes and reduce healthcare costs," King says.

With two high-profile participants, the collaboration is bound to have some interesting aspects that will shine the spotlight on biomarkers.

Dr. Andrew Conrad, executive vice president and chief scientific officer of LabCorp, says an interesting aspect of the partnership is "that we will be developing deep knowledge about appropriate use of biomarkers in clinical practice and how to provide this information so that patients and doctors can make better decisions."

The collaboration also will take advantage of what both Duke and LabCorp have to offer.

"The Biomarker Factory will leverage existing assets in both founding organizations and focus them in a new way to rigorously demonstrate the utility of biomarkers to stratify disease, conserve healthcare resources, and optimize health outcomes," says Victoria Christian, chief operating officer of the Translational Research Institute, who spearheaded the enterprise.

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