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Delaware Valley Personalized Medicine Project, Aetna, GenoLogics, Molecular Libraries Probe Production Centers Network, Qiagen, University of Miami Genomics Center, FDA, Mayo Clinic, Solgar

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Coriell Spearheads Large-Scale Initiative to Study Effect of Genetic Risk Factors on Treatment
 
The Coriell Institute for Medical Research this week kicked off the Delaware Valley Personalized Medicine Project, an initiative that plans to genotype up to 100,000 patient volunteers with the goal of studying the use of genetic risk factors in patient care. 
 
The project will use Affymetrix’s Genome-Wide Human SNP Array 6.0 genotyping platform.
 
Coriell said the DVPMP will enroll 10,000 participants for the project over the next three years and eventually plans to reach 100,000 participants. Other partners in the program include the Fox Chase Cancer Center, Cooper University Hospital, and Virtua Health.
 
The initiative has so far raised $5 million from the William G. Rohrer Foundation, the William T. Read Legacy Fund, Eleanor Read, the Daniel J. Ragone Family Foundation, and Coriell's endowment.
 
In a statement, the DVPMP differentiated itself from “for-profit personal genome companies” because it “aims to explore use of genetic risk factors in clinical decision-making.”
 
Under the project, participants will be encouraged to consult with their physicians about their risk variants “and to make important decisions about preventative care and proper medical treatments,” Coriell said.
 
All patient volunteers “will control access to their genetic profiles and will determine whether they wish the information to become part of their medical records in the future,” the institute added. There is no charge to participate.
 
Erin O'Shea, a professor of molecular biology at Harvard University, will chair the project’s Informed Cohort Oversight Board, which will determine which risk variants are “appropriate” for use by patients and physicians to improve health.
 

 
Aetna Partners with Informed Medical Decisions to Offer Confidential Genetic Counseling
 
Health insurance firm Aetna said last week that it will offer its members genetic counseling for cancer-related issues through a partnership with Informed Medical Decisions, which specializes in cancer genetics counseling.
 
The company said the services will be provided via phone and the web “as a component of health benefit plans which include coverage for genetic testing.” Aetna said that all discussions between its members and the genetic counselors are private “and will not be shared with the member's employer or with Aetna.”
 
The service is expected to "provide critical health information that members and their families can use to anticipate and reduce risk," said Aetna’s CMO, Troyen Brennan, in a statement.
 
Although several deadly cancers are strongly linked to inherited susceptibility, “concerns about a shortage of board-certified genetic counselors have made access to reliable information challenging for patients and physicians alike,” the company said.
 
Aetna’s senior medical director, Joanne Armstrong, said that there are currently fewer than 2,000 board-certified genetic counselors in the US.
 
Informed Medical Decisions first will evaluate the results of a free online questionnaire filled out by the customer. Those the company deems to be “at an increased risk for an inherited cancer” will then provide more detailed family medical information, and will then set up a telephone consultation with a genetic counselor. The counselor will then help determine the member’s risk level and whether a genetic test is appropriate.
 
Aetna said it ran a pilot program using its own employees over the past two years, and found that “only a small percentage” of employees understood their personal risk for cancer or the contribution of family history to that risk.
 
“Few were recommended by primary care physicians to consult with trained genetic counselors, and the majority reported that they were the first member of their extended family to ever speak with a genetic counselor,” the company added.
 
After the counseling services were conducted, however, Aetna said most participants “reported a significant improvement in their understanding of personal risk as well as available risk reduction strategies.”
 
Aetna said that the prescreening questionnaire is free, and any costs for genetic counseling and testing services are “subject to the provisions of the member's health plan, meaning the member may pay applicable deductibles and coinsurance requirements.”
 
Further reimbursement details were not provided.
 

 
Alberta Transplant Genomics Center Using GenoLogics' Geneus
 
The University of Alberta has installed the GenoLogics’ Geneus software in its Alberta Transplant Applied Genomics Center, the company said this week.
 
The center is using the informatics and scientific management system in its diagnostic gene expression and transcriptomics research with an eye toward developing molecular diagnostics for organ transplant recipients. The company said the research uses gene expression microarrays to understand the causes of organ rejection and has already led to a series of gene expression sets that are useful in assessing rejection events.
 
The center also expects to use proteomics and metabolomics research to add to its ongoing efforts, and to partner with pharmaceutical companies to develop therapeutics drugs aimed at countering organ rejection.
 
Financial terms of the agreement were not released.
 

 
NIH to Support Development of Assays, Chemical Probes Under Roadmap Initiative
 
The National Institutes of Health is soliciting high-throughput screening assay applications from public or private investigators who are interested in working with the NIH Roadmap-funded Molecular Libraries Probe Production Centers Network.
 
NIH last week issued two solicitations under its Molecular Libraries and Imaging Roadmap Initiative with the goal of developing chemical probes for the MLPCN, a collaborative research network that follows on the Molecular Libraries Screening Centers Network that NIH created in 2005.
 
NIH said that as of July 1, 2008, the MLSCN will become the MLPCN “with the emphasis on probe discovery and development.”
 
The MLPCN is expected to perform more than 100 biochemical or cell-based assays solicited from the scientific community against a library of more than 300,000 compounds, NIH said.
 
The centers will develop expertise and skills in assay development, assay adaptation and implementation, high-throughput screening, informatics, structure-activity relationship analysis, cheminformatics, and chemistry.
 
On Friday, NIH released two solicitations for assays that will be implemented in the MLPCN. One uses the R03 small research grant mechanism and the other is under the X01 resource access mechanism.
 
Under the R03 solicitation, budgets for total costs are limited to $25,000 for each award and the project period is limited to one year with a one-year no-cost extension.
 
Under the X01 solicitation, NIH said it will support “the costs of assay automation, screening and optimization chemistry.”
 
NIH said the program is aimed at developing new chemical probes as research tools to advance the understanding of biological functions and disease mechanisms.
 

 
Qiagen Forms Molecular Dx Joint Venture in Singapore
 
Qiagen is starting a joint venture in Singapore with Bio*One Capital, a biomedical investment management company based in that country, that will develop molecular diagnostic assays for genetic and infectious diseases, the firms said this week.
 
The venture, called Dx Assays, should be operational by early 2008 and will be staffed with over 30 researchers, the companies said.
 
Qiagen said it expects the venture will broaden its molecular assay portfolio and expand its market reach in Asia, which accounted for around 10 percent of the company’s overall net sales last year.
 
Dx Assays plans to collaborate with research institutes and hospitals in the molecular diagnostics field to “bring a strong commercial perspective to the ongoing research activities here,” said Swee-Yeok Chu, CEO of Bio*One Capital.
 
"The in-depth expertise and talent pool in biomedical research makes Singapore an ideal location for a center for assay development,” Qiagen CEO Peer Schatz added in a statement.
 

 
University of Miami Opens Genomics Center
 
The University of Miami opened a new genomics institute on the school’s South Campus last week that will focus on researching Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, macular degeneration, and cardiovascular and other common diseases.
 
Backed by an undisclosed amount of funding from UM’s Miller School of Medicine and $37 million in federal funds, the Miami Institute for Human Genomics includes several research centers but has two main components: the Center for Genomic Medicine and the Center for Genome Technology.
 
As Pharmacogenomics Reporter sister publication GenomeWeb Daily News reported last year, the institute will be led by Margaret Pericak-Vance, who formerly was director of Duke University’s Center for Human Genetics. Jeffrey Vance, who was assistant director at the Duke center, will direct the Center for Molecular Genetics and Genomic Medicine.
 
The Center for Genomic Medicine is anchored by a biorepository of blood, tissue, and fluid samples representing DNA from more than 25,000 individuals. This facility is made available to all researchers and collaborators at the university.
 
The Center for Genome Technology will conduct genotyping, sequencing, variant detection, and microarray analysis.
 
Currently, the center is using three Illumina BeadStations; an Illumina Genome Analyzer; a Sequenom MassArray; an Applied Biosystems 3730 XCL and a 3130 XL; an ABI 7900 Taqman; Nimblegen’s Gene Expression Array; three Tecan liquid handling stations; an Affymetrix GeneChip system; and an Agilent Technologies’ gene expression system.
 
The institute, which already employs a staff of around 100, is currently conducting a study of 800 families with autism spectrum disorder that is aimed at identifying genes that contribute to the disease.
 
The institute also houses the Morris K. Udall Parkinson Disease Research Center of Excellence, which is focused on genetic screening for Parkinson’s and so far has identified “close to half of the confirmed susceptibility genes in Parkinson’s disease to date,” Vance said in a statement.
 
The MIGH also expects to conduct research collaborations with other UM researchers, as well as those at other schools, including the University of Florida, Florida International University, and Florida Atlantic University.
 

 
FDA's Tox Center to Use Genedata's Biomarker Software
 
The US Food and Drug Administration’s National Center for Toxicological Research will use Genedata’s biomarker-discovery software, the company said last week.
 
The NCTR’s Center for Toxicoinformatics will use the company’s Expressionist software to support the “vast quantities and varied sources of microarray data” used in its voluntary genomics data submission program.
 
The software is used for biomarker research involving transcriptomics, proteomics, and metabolomics data, Genedata said.
 
Genedata’s managing director, Jens Hoefkens, said the agreement will ensure that its customers will be using the same tools as the FDA to identify markers.
 
Financial terms of the agreement were not released.
 

 
Mayo Clinic to Use Luminex's xMAP for Thalassemia Tests
 
Mayo Clinic will provide genetic tests and other services using Luminex’s xMAP technology and will work with Luminex to develop testing for the blood disorder thalassemia under a new licensing and development collaboration, the company said last week.
 
The program includes collaboration and licensing provisions for inherited thalassemia and allows for the development of additional tests, Luminex said.
 
With xMAP, Mayo Clinic will add to its thalassemia services a molecular diagnostic test using multiplex ligation-dependent probe amplification and bead-based liquid microarray technology.
 
Thalassemia, which is also called Mediterranean anemia, is a blood disorder caused by genetic defects that result in reduced numbers of blood cells. Around two million people in the US carry the genetic trait for the disease, the company said.
 
Financial terms of the agreement were not released.
 

 
GeneLink Teams with Vitamin Firm to Offer Retail Nutrigenomics Product Line
 
GeneLink said this week that Solgar Vitamin & Herb has licensed its Nutritional System platform for use with an upcoming line of “genetically guided nutritional supplements.”
 
GeneLink’s Nutritional System includes a DNA collection kit and the company’s Genetic Compass reporting system. Solgar will market the platform alongside the line of supplements, dubbed Nutrigenomx.
 
The companies said in a statement that the Nutrigenomx product line is the first retail “proprietary dietary supplement system tailored to an individual's genetic makeup.”
 
Solgar said it plans to sell the products through health food and natural food retailers in North America.
 
Financial terms of the agreement were not released.

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