NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Fox Chase Cancer Center plans to raise $30 million over the next six years to establish and equip the new Cancer Genome Institute it is forming with human geneticist Dietrich Stephan, with the goal of creating the nation's largest center devoted to cancer genome sequencing, Jeff Boyd, Fox Chase's vice president of molecular medicine, told GenomeWeb Daily News today.
The new institute will combine new equipment, namely 100 next-generation genome sequencers, with the cancer center's resources, and the molecular biology know-how and connections of Stephan and his Institute for Individualized Health — the word "Ignite" has been dropped from his institute's name — with the intent of someday treating all of Fox Chase's cancer patients through personalized medicine, Boyd said in an interview.
Among Fox Chase's resources, he said, are available space; the cancer center's presence in a major Northeast metropolitan area close to academic institutions and pharmaceutical giants; the presence of an NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center since 1974, the first year the distinction was awarded; top-tier doctors and researchers; a biospecimen repository; and a Phase 1 clinical trial program.
Stephan, said Boyd, brings to the new institute contacts with potential partners, including some with expertise in information technology, computational technology, and computational biology.
"This is not something that Fox Chase could really do by itself," he said.
CGI expects to generate revenue through government grants as well as through contracts with industry and academic partners.
"It's fair to say we've met with every major pharmaceutical company with an interest in the oncology space, and I think they're all very interested, and they're all waiting for the Cancer Genome Institute to lift," Boyd said. "I think once we actually have 20 to 25 sequencers in house, then that's real and I think it's fair to say that the contracts with industry will become real."
Other attractive opportunities could emerge on the government grant side, he added.
"We'd be looking at RFAs from the government that only a very large sequencing center would be in a position to handle," Boyd said. "But it's impossible to say at this point until we see what's out there, what's available, what the government decides to do in terms of requests for applications, to really say exactly what projects we'd be handling, except those involving human cancer and high-throughput sequencing."
While large numbers of sequencers exist in a small number of research centers — including the Broad Institute, Washington University's Genome Sequencing Center, and Baylor College of Medicine's Human Genome Sequencing Center — CGI says it will maintain the distinction of being the largest center exclusively devoted to cancer genome sequencing.
Stephan will likely serve as either a chief scientific officer or chief operating officer of CGI, with Boyd retaining administrative leadership for Fox Chase, possibly holding the title as president: "He and I will be very closely linked and work closely together to run the institute," said Boyd.
Boyd is also executive director of Fox Chase's Institute for Personalized Medicine, which consists of a single Illumina genome sequencer and five staffers. IPM will be integrated into the new Cancer Genome Institute, which he said expects to take delivery on the first "15 to 25 instruments" of its 100 planned sequencers, as well as hire "25 to 30" staffers, during the next six months.
That's approximately how soon Fox Chase hopes to raise the "major" gift Boyd said would be needed to launch CGI. "Ideally we'd be looking for a major transformational gift from a donor which would clearly represent a naming opportunity … but of course, we're certainly open to smaller gifts that would get us to the same sum."
While IPM has had more of a translational focus, the new Cancer Genome Institute will start out primarily as a research center and evolve over time into a full-service center for cancer genomic research and clinical services.
"We're not quite there in terms of being a clinical service yet. Patients walking through the door are not having full genome sequences yet," Boyd said. "In our six-year plan, we expect to start transitioning from research and development into the clinical space within two to three years."
Over the next five years, the Cancer Genome Institute will grow to 75 staffers and the full 100 sequencers occupying a full floor within Fox Chase's Robert C. Young, MD, Pavilion, where work on a $70.5 million, 120,000-square-foot addition to what was previously called the Cancer Prevention Pavilion was completed last spring.
The 75 staffers will include "probably in the neighborhood of a dozen, 10 to 12" principal investigators who will be devoted exclusively to CGI research, and will not be considered part of Fox Chase's faculty of about 100, Boyd said. Additional staffers will include biostatisticians, genetic counselors, and ancillary positions.
Still to be decided, Boyd said, are decisions on what areas of cancer the new institute will study, and on what type of genome sequencers CGI will use. "We're leaning toward Life Technologies and the ABI platform based on everything I know about the direction they're headed and the quality of their product," Boyd told GWDN.
Stephan's old Ignite Institute joined with ABI last January to announce that the institute would purchase 100 SOLiD 4 machines. That transaction is "history," Boyd said today, while ABI has announced that many of its SOLiD 4 customers who bought such machines in recent months would be upgraded to the company's new SOLiD 5500 series machines.
Other operations would be outsourced. CGI will use cloud computing for its computer and information technology needs rather than maintain a room full of servers, while academic partners to be lined up by Stephan will handle the institute's computational biology.
Neither Stephan nor a publicist for the old Ignite Institute have returned telephone calls placed by GWDN.