U.S. provides personal touch

TGen, PPM and ISB team up to help Luxembourg harness genomics and proteomics tech

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LUXEMBOURG—Three prominent U.S.-based biomedical science leaders have been tapped by the government of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg for an international collaboration to establish a bioscience center of excellence—an effort to increase the pace of innovation in the areas of molecular biology, systems biology and personalized medicine.

The initiative will include formation of a centralized biobank/tissue repository, two major projects to further research in the field of molecular biology, and a project to demonstrate the effectiveness of new diagnostics tests for earlier detection and treatment of lung cancer.

Those organizations are the Partnership for Personalized Medicine (PPM), led by Dr. Leland H. Hartwell, director, a Nobel Laureate in Physiology/Medicine and president of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle; The Institute for Systems Biology (ISB), also in Seattle, led by Dr. Leroy Hood, president of ISB and co-founder of U.S.-based Amgen Inc.; and Arizona's Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), led by Dr. Jeffrey Trent, president and scientific director of TGen and former scientific director at the National Human Genome Research Institute of the NIH.

Much of the technology being brought to bear is genomic in nature, but Trent freely admits that he tends to take a broad view of genomics that often embraces all the "omics," such as proteomics and metabolomics. Also, because personalized medicine is the cornerstone of the work Luxembourg seeks to do, the focus is on diagnostic biomarkers.

"Companies in the pharmaceutical and biotech realm look toward genomic and proteomic biomarkers for the shorter-term gain that can be achieved with new drug candidates," Trent notes. "There isn't as much interest in diagnostics, in part because insurance companies don't reimburse diagnostic efforts well."

Still, there are potential opportunities both from the fruits of discovery and development companies—and perhaps for those companies over the long run. The Luxembourg project could benefit from leads that have already been mined for their therapeutic potential, for example, and might also learn biomarker information that could aid in therapeutics.

"What is really exciting for us is that we'll be able to pull samples across an entire framework genomically and otherwise, doing gene expression array, copy number work, SNPs, whole genome sequencing and the like," Trent says. "We've got a unique opportunity to build an infrastructure that will feed into a collective data warehouse that can support this research and support efforts beyond it."

The Luxembourg program is one example of the kind of systems approach to biomarkers that PPM's Hartwell says is critical. For example, teaming a discovery laboratory, a clinical team, an insurer, a healthcare system, and a regulatory agency to devise models that achieve the discovery, implementation, validation and approval of important new personalized medicine tools.

In Luxembourg's case, the project brings together the nation's Ministry of the Economy and Foreign Trade; Ministry for Culture, Higher Education and Research; and Ministry of Health to invest their knowledge, will and more than $200 million.

One end result of the project is to build the Integrated BioBank of Luxembourg to implement uniform standards for collection, storage and redistribution of an anticipated full range of tissue samples—as well as help provide detailed, centralized, molecular-based characterization of biospecimens to amass an extensive database of medically relevant information. Another aim is to create the Center for Systems Biology Luxembourg, which will begin with two projects focused on research in the field of molecular biology.


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