Frank Taylor came to the Great Smokies Diagnostic Laboratory about three years ago to help remake the then 12-year-old company. Under his guidance, the lab has taken a major turn toward genomic diagnostics in an arena he says is devoid of competitors: predictive genomics.
Sure, there are plenty of genomic diagnostics out there. But Taylor’s approach with the SNP-based testing at his lab has an added twist. “All the SNPs that we utilize have four criteria: relevant, prevalent, modifiable — that’s probably the most important — and measurable. So we only include those SNPs where there is something that an individual can do about it.” Most other diagnostics firms, he contends, are geared toward identifying a disease, such as cystic fibrosis, and there tends to be little if anything that the patient can do about it once identified.
The company relies on tech transfer, gleaning useful, validated SNPs from other research efforts. “If you look at R&D, we’re little R and big D,” Taylor explains.
GSDL’s predictive genomics line includes tests in “cardio, immuno, and osteo,” Taylor says, and the latest addition is a toxicity test to help physicians determine potential adverse effects of particular drugs. “If a person has a genetic mutation for these SNPs, they are at an increased risk for this disease. We can put together a profile for these people that shows them where their strengths and weaknesses are in these areas,” Taylor says. The patient may be able to make changes in diet, lifestyle, or medication use to help, say, fend off the onset of a disease to which he or she is prone.
The other thrust of GSDL is education, which the company does primarily through its ACE branch. “What we are finding is that many of our physician clients are less than up to speed on the Human Genome Project and how this technology works,” Taylor says. In recent months ACE has brought in 1,000 doctors for genomics training and expects to double that by the end of the year.
“We want to be known as the people that are educating around this, not just people who are trying to make a buck,” says Taylor, who spent some 20 years at the Nicholls Institute before joining GSDL. Granted, the upshot often works in the lab’s favor: “Those people become fairly loyal to us,” Taylor concedes, “because we’re the only lab doing this.”
— Meredith Salisbury