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TGen Collaboration a Harbinger of Things to Come As GE Healthcare Eyes Personalized Medicine

GE Healthcare's "cellular pharmacogenomics" collaboration with the Translational Genomics Research Institute announced this week is part of the firm's broader strategy to partner with research institutions that can push its technologies into personalized medicine, a GE Healthcare official said.

The partnership with non-profit TGen, which also aims to develop new applications for high-content analysis, is one of several the firm has already established and plans to establish to advance its technologies into personalized medicine. "We're not trying to focus on any one area, but we're trying to provide technologies that will enable us to get at this common goal … which is personalized medicine," Mike Honeysett, manager of strategic alliances for GE Healthcare Life Sciences, told BioCommerce Week.

The TGen collaboration "really dovetails into our key initiatives in working in this space," he said. "GE Healthcare has decided that translational medicine, or personalized medicine, is really a key focus for the entire product line going from clinical diagnostics all the way upstream to proteomics and genomics."

Under the partnership, TGen researchers are using one each of GE's IN Cell 1000 and 3000 cell analyzers to interrogate the human genome to identify and characterize cancer-associated genes that could be used to develop targeted drugs. TGen researchers will use the tools as part of a new strategy for pharmacogenomic development called cellular genomics, or cellular pharmacogenomics, said Spyro Mousses, director of pharmaceutical genomics and cancer drug development at TGen.

"We're not trying to focus on any one area, but we're trying to provide technologies that will enable us to get at this common goal … which is personalized medicine."

"This means that we're knocking down genes one at a time in a highly parallel fashion to understand how that knockdown changes the response in a living cell," he said. "Rather than just trying to make an association between the expression of a gene and drug response, we're knocking a gene down and asking whether the cancer cell is more sensitive or more resistant to a particular cancer drug."

Mousses said TGen has been using the IN Cell 1000 for approximately one year and is now using the 3000 as well. "The data that we're getting out of the IN Cell 3000 is in many ways superior," he said. "It's faster, but it's not just speed. We're getting better signal to noise, and it's allowed us to take high-content analysis to a very industrial level, where we can do millions of measurements rather than thousands."

Both GE and TGen view the collaboration as a true partnership, not just a traditional vendor-customer relationship. "Our alliance with GE has been largely not just to do things better and faster, but to develop new applications for high-content analysis," said Mousses. "Being able to knock down genes and genomics is a little different than the intended applications for these instruments. We hope to transform the way people do genomics and how they investigate drug response."

According to Honeysett, TGen has "provided us with some tremendous feedback, which our software engineers in particular have been able to respond to." Asked if GE would own the rights to any discoveries made during the collaboration, he said, "We're providing the hardware and technical infrastructure to do the analysis, and naturally if we develop any, say, software tools, for example, that enable TGen to get to their answers … in certain instances we would own the IP. In other instances they would own the IP, and of course in a final scenario we would share the IP."

Honeysett said the collaboration with TGen is similar to ones the firm recently established with an undisclosed Canadian cancer research center and a group in the San Francisco area called QB3, the California Institute for Quantitative Biomedical Research. He said that under the collaboration with QB3, GE is providing tools for genomic, proteomic, and high-content screening applications, as well as an MRI machine, with the goal of moving discoveries into the clinic. He also said GE plans to pen additional collaborations like these.

"GE Healthcare has decided that translational medicine, or personalized medicine, is really a key focus for the entire product line going from clinical diagnostics all the way upstream to proteomics and genomics."

Honeysett would not say whether TGen intends to use other tools beyond the In Cell instruments in the collaboration, but he said the firm's other technologies, including molecular imaging, are keys to its molecular diagnostics and personalized medicine plans.

"High-throughput biology does give us quite a few phenotypic answers, and naturally molecular diagnostics provides us with more specific detail — but it is a combination of both molecular diagnostics as well as phenotypic expression," said Honeysett. "I think you need that information working in concert with a number of other variables that are necessary to provide personalized medicine."

Why GE?

TGen had many options for choosing high-content analyzers, including instruments sold by GE Healthcare rivals such as Fisher Scientific's Cellomics unit, BD Biosciences, Evotec, and Molecular Devices. None of these options is cheap.

GE Healthcare does not disclose pricing for the IN Cell 3000, but according to various customers, the lower-end IN Cell 1000 costs approximately $450,000. Evotec has said that its Opera can cost as much as $855,000 for a fully equipped version, and Molecular Devices has said it aims to sell the "fully loaded" version of its ImageXpress Ultra confocal imaging system for just under $500,000, while less equipped models — for example, those with fewer lasers — may sell for less.

Mousses said a combination of factors led TGen to choose GE. "We found them to be very progressive and innovative — very good partners," he said. "I don't want to compare to anyone else, but in terms of the quality of images, the speed, and the software, it's just outstanding. I think the other thing is that they are really committed to this field, and we wanted to work with someone who was going to be around for a while."

Honeysett said GE tries "to put systems in place that are long-term and sustainable for both companies. The vision is so solid with TGen. I could see this [collaboration] going out many, many years."

— Edward Winnick ([email protected])
and Ben Butkus ([email protected])

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