precision medicine


Known for Medical Devices, 116 Yr Old BD Makes a Bold Move in Genomics

Talk to someone who attended this year’s AGBT, and you’ll know the big buzz was about single cell genomics. One of the exciting new platforms came from a new player in the genomics space and yet from a very old company.

Founded at the end of the 19th Century, Becton Dickinson (BD) has been one of America’s great medical device innovators. They made the first syringe designed specifically for insulin injections. Their BD Vacutainer became the standard for blood collection in the U.S. They designed the first “intelligent” insulin pump. At this year’s AGBT conference, BD showed up with a new genomics division announcing their new Resolve(TM) Single-Cell Analysis Platform.

Today we talk with the VP of BD Genomics, Stephen Gunstream. Stephen says life science researchers already know BD through the BD Biosciences unit which over the past thirty years has been perfecting flow cytometry for their single cell analyzers and sorters. Acknowledging that BD has been going through “a culture shift the past five to ten years,” Stephen says their history with flow cytometry made their recent move into single cell genomics tools a natural one.

“People talk about a resurgence in single cell genomics, but I wouldn’t really call it a resurgence,” says Stephen. "We’ve been analyzing cells for 30 years with flow cytometry. What has really changed is that the capabilities of next gen sequencing has allowed us to do this in a highly parallel manner at a cost which is a lot more affordable.”

So how will BD stand out in a rapidly maturing marketplace? What research does Stephen think the new platform will most impact? And perhaps most importantly, will BD with their century old history of experience with clinical products be able to significantly help guide genomics research products into the clinic?

Can You Name the World’s Largest Single Disease Research Charity?

Let’s take a break from the US and head over to the UK, home of the world’s largest single disease medical research charity.

Cancer Research UK (CRUK) raises five hundred million pounds a year for research and drug discovery into any and all of the two hundred plus types of cancer. The charity is extremely well integrated into U.K. culture, and uniquely English in that the donations are mostly small and come from all corners of society. A third of CRUK’s funding comes from donations averaging £10 or less.

Allan Jordan is head of chemistry for the drug discovery unit of CRUK. On today’s show he says that the democratic funding of the charity gives them a great deal of flexibility to do early stage drug discovery. Whereas a big pharma or biotech has to devote their resources to limited assets, or drugs, CRUK is able to spend more on basic biology research and follow the science into any type or cancer or multiple cancers.

There are very few conditions,” says Allan about his drug discovery unit in Manchester. "We don’t have to be specific about any particular disease area; we don’t have to be experts in one disease at the expense of all others. We can tap into that UK-wide expertise and network that can help us understand the biology.”

How is the charity working with the UK's national healthcare system? And does Allan hear the same kind of skepticism that we hear in the U.S. about precision medicine in oncology?

Luke Timmerman on His New Biography of Lee Hood

There is tons of life science journalism. Our coffee tables and inboxes fill up each week with that quarterly or that daily. We sift through headlines and product advertisements to assess what’s going on in our industry. It’s our job to know. In this age of several-times-per-day newsletters and 24 hrs a day Twitter, we catch what we can.

And occasionally, we come across a carefully written piece or a well done interview, and we take a moment to realize with some awe the history that is being made in our industry.

Occasionally. Which is why a new book out by veteran biotech journalist and the guest of today’s show, Luke Timmerman, is such a rare treat.

Hood is a thrilling ride through the life of the visionary biologist, Lee Hood, told by someone who is not afraid to show the shiny and the not so shiny. From his boyhood in Montana to being chair of the biology department at Caltech where he oversaw the invention of the automated DNA sequencer, to being recruited to Seattle by Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Hood’s journey becomes the perfect vehicle for Timmerman to probe into the messy corners of science and put an intimate, human face on the history of biotech. Covering Hood’s move to the University of Washington as a young Seattle based reporter, Timmerman has known Lee Hood for several years. It's a full scale biography, efficiently and confidently written with an insider's perspective and access. Timmerman says it's an “unofficial biography,” meaning Hood was supportive of the project, but Timmerman had full freedom.

Playing historian has been somewhat of a fantasy for the long time journalist.

"There are things that are happening in the moment which a journalist can call people on, but you don’t really get the whole story. There’s only so much people can say and there are not a whole lot of documents that come available when you’re on deadline. But when you’re a biographer, and you have the luxury of time, and people have moved on, things become a lot less sensitive. People become more willing to talk, and a whole lot of documents become available through the public record.”

Who is this man, Lee Hood, and how has he impacted our industry? In the book, we read of the time when Hood holds a press conference to announce his team has done it—they’ve got an automated DNA sequencer. But, standing at perhaps the pinnacle of his career, Hood forgets to mention the "team" part. It’s a flaw that will go on to haunt what by any measure has been a remarkably successful career.

What impact has the subject made on the author? And what does Timmerman hope for the book?

To round out the interview, we get Timmerman’s thoughts on his new gig, the Timmerman Report, and the recent Sarepta decision by the FDA.

August 2016 with Nathan and Laura

It’s the end of summer and end of another month. Joining us to discuss the genomics headlines of August are Laura Hercher and Nathan Pearson.

A recent study demonstrating that breast cancer patients with low genomic risk may not need chemotherapy is just what precision medicine is all about, isn’t it? Theral and Laura think the study is a big deal. Nathan’s not so sure.

Nathan is convinced though that Eurocentric studies have implicit racism. Laura agrees, saying the lack of racial diversity in biological databases is a major weakness that we must face head on.

Also, the FDA issued a report supporting Oxitec’s GM mosquitos for use in Florida. Laura is on board with the science but warns about smugness on the part of the scientific community. And George Church’s lab released a reengineered e. coli. Nathan imagines a new genomic language of 2 letter codons.

A Precision Medicine Platform Comes of Age: Jonathan Hirsch, Syapse

Today’s show with Jonathan Hirsch, the President and co-founder of Syapse begins a couple years ago. We first featured him on the program in January of 2014 with the headline, Is this the Omics-to-Clinic Site We’ve All Been Waiting For?

It turns out, in many respects it is. Syapse has had some big wins with some of the more progressive healthcare companies in the U.S., including Intermountain and Stanford. This year Syapse announced the creation of the Oncology Precision Network for data sharing in cancer care among several major institutions. The company even got a shout out from Vice President Biden in one of the recent White House confabs.

Over the years we’ve featured various bioinformatics and clinical informatics companies who had the aim of bringing omics data to the clinic. Syapse is emerging as a leader in that field demonstrating strong traction, particularly in cancer care. Today Jonathan explains the company’s Precision Medicine Platform, on top of which sits their oncology application.  He gives an example of just how this platform is changing cancer care at Intermountain in St. George, Utah, a small town with some big expertise.

And has the Veep’s Cancer Moonshot been changing things up?

“Everyone focuses on the money, but it’s not about the money,” Jonathan says. "It’s about how you use the power of the presidency to knock heads together and bring people together in collaborative relationships that they might otherwise not have entered. We’ve seen a measurable change in attitudes around clinical data sharing from this initiative."

Gene and Tonic, July 8, 2016: 49ers Going into Genetic Testing

Just two years at their new home in Silicon Valley and not far down the road from 23andMe, the San Francisco 49ers are offering their fans genetic testing and the chance to donate blood to advance human genome research.

Announcing a partnership with the company ORIG3N, the 49er Chief Operating Officer, Ethan Casson, says that “this is the first agreement of its kind where a major sports organization can give back to the human genome some of what the genome has given to professional football players.”

Medicine and the Limits of Science with Michel Accad, MD

Are drug prices really too high? If so, how do we bring them down? Is precision medicine and the use of molecular profiles really making a difference in healthcare today?

These are questions that regularly haunt our industry and the journalists who cover it. But there will be no answers until we face the grand question of all, what today's guest calls the most nagging question in medicine: What is health?

Today we begin a new series focused on just this question.

When I came across Michel Accad’s recent blog, Why I Don’t Believe in Science, of course it provoked me to click. Either he would be a terrible nutcase, in which case I'd lose the time it takes to discover this, or it might turn out to be one of those disturbing points of the day when we have to actually do some thinking. What I found was a cardiologist based in San Francisco who was doing some deep philosophical thinking about medicine today. And, obviously, one savvy enough to get some click through. It turns out Michel does believe in science, but he doesn’t share the pervasive view that medicine is a continuum of science.

What are his thoughts about precision medicine? What is his definition of health?

We always jump at the chance to have a medical doctor on the program, and a doctor who is also a philosopher is a double treat. Today's interview takes us down a different path than our typical shows, and we'd like to invite the audience to send us your feedback by clicking here.

February 2016: Mosquitos, Preprints, and that Rocking White House Summit

It’s time again to look back on another month with Nathan and Laura.

Framingham for the Modern Era: Josie Briggs on the Precision Medicine Initiative

Josie Briggs is Director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) at the NIH. She is also currently serving as interim director of the president’s new Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI).

What has happened since the president announced the initiative, what is the proposed timeline going forward, and how much money will there be for the project ongoing?

Josie answers these questions and more in today’s show, comparing the PMI to the well known Framingham Heart Study, probably the nation’s greatest longitudinal study to date. As with the Framingham study, the NIH is hoping that the PMI will engage the general public in biomedical research.

“Having the interest of the public in clinical research, and having people sign up and be engaged and say that they want to be a part of this is, to me, a very important component. In some disease areas, it’s striking how few people participate in clinical research. This is — and the president’s enthusiasm is part of it — this is a way for there to be broader engagement in clinical research,” says Josie.

Defending the Value of Biotech Innovation in California: Sara Radcliffe, CLSA

Earlier this year, the California Life Sciences Association (CLSA) launched, becoming the first statewide policy and advocacy group for biotech. The new nonprofit, a merger between BayBio and the California Healthcare Institute, is led by CEO Sara Radcliffe, former Executive VP of Health at the international Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) in Washington.

Sara steps into this new role at a time when biotech is booming in the state and in the nation. Yet she will face some difficult challenges ahead:  drug prices are going through the stratosphere,  drawing increasing ire from the general public and state and national goverments while diagnostic test makers see their often patchy reimbursement being further reduced.  Facing a new statewide ballot initiative that aims to fix drug pricing and an upcoming drug cost transparency bill scheduled for the next legislative session, how will Sara defend CLSA members, such as Gilead and Celgene, who are charging ever higher drug prices? And what will she do for a promising yet underpaid diagnostics industry?

Welcome to California, Sara.  How does she like the Bay Area so far?   “It’s a much more laid back environment,” she says at the end of the interview. "Washington can be quite a staid environment. So I’m enjoying the entrepreneurial atmosphere."

 

 



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