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Personalized Medicine: Ginsburg to head up new genomic med center at Duke

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Geoff Ginsburg has been working to further the field of personalized medicine for years now, starting during his almost eight years at Millennium Pharmaceuticals, where he was vice president of molecular and personalized medicine. Last month, he was officially installed in his new position as director of genomic medicine at Duke University’s Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, which is led by former Case Westerner Hunt Willard. He will be in charge of finding new ways to bring genetic data to bear in developing preventive healthcare programs for patients.

“For the first time we have the beginnings of a toolbox” to study this type of medicine, says Ginsburg, a cardiologist by training. The genomic medicine center he oversees within the larger Duke genomics institute will be “really a place where a lot of the integrative work occurs to deliver genetic and genomic tests to patients,” he adds. “Important predictive tests [using] biomarkers will really enable personalized medicine.”

His new job represents a different angle, but much of this is work Ginsburg has been doing all along. At Millennium, he was responsible for developing predictive biomarkers and played a large part in pushing the company to the “right drug for the right patient” mentality it has engaged in the past few years, he says. Ginsburg also worked extensively in the public policy arena, participating in the FDA’s pharmacogenomics guidance due out this year and founding a Washington, DC, organization called the Personalized Medicine Coalition aimed at dealing with the key policy issues necessary to move the field forward on the regulatory front.

Ginsburg says he’s been interested in Duke’s institute since it started up, and that he was impressed by the progress it had made just in the last 12 months. “If you had talked to me a year ago and asked me would there be a place in the medical universe to really foster this kind of strategy and activity, I’m not sure that one would’ve existed,” he says. “A lot of things have happened in the last year” — including key hires at the institute, he adds.

The main difference for him will be a shift away from the drug focus he had at Millennium and toward “a broader emphasis on disease and drugs and all the issues and challenges that need to be addressed in order to bring genomic medicine into clinical practice,” he says. “My charge is to foster and bring together a research environment [that will] utilize genetics and genomics, the science of genomes, to really understand disease at a molecular level.” He’ll be aided in no small part by Duke’s health system, which gives Ginsburg and his team a starting sample population of some 35,000 patients.

Ginsburg says that going forward, he’s looking not only to band together more of the talent already at Duke, but also to bring in some key players for the center as well. He’s also going to be on the prowl for some collaborations with industry to help develop a sustainable economic model for personalized medicine, he explains.

For now, though, he seems to be reveling in his new challenge. “I’ve worked with a lot of academic medical centers in my position at Millennium,” he says. “There are very few places in the country that have thought about this in as comprehensive a way as Duke.”

— Meredith Salisbury

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