At A Glance
Name: Geoffrey Ginsburg
Title: Director, Center for Genomic Medicine, Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy, Duke University, since Sept. 1
Background: Program director for cardiovascular disease, Millennium Pharmaceuticals — 1997 - 2000; Vice president of molecular and personalized medicine, Millennium Pharmaceuticals — 2000 - 2004; MD from Boston University — 1984; PhD in biophysics from Boston University — 1984
After receiving his MD and PhD, Geoffrey Ginsburg joined the staff of Beth Israel Hospital and Harvard Medical School, completing an internship and residency there in 1987. At Beth Israel, he was director of Preventive Cardiology and at Children’s Hospital he led a laboratory in applied genetics of cardiovascular disease.
Ginsburg joined Millennium Pharmaceuticals in 1997 as program director for cardiovascular disease and led discovery programs in atherosclerosis and congestive heart failure, leading efforts in high-throughput target discovery for several early-stage drug development programs. In 2000, he was appointed Millennium’s vice president of molecular and personalized medicine, where he worked to develop biomarkers for disease and pharmacogenomic strategies for therapeutics and their implementation in drug development. In his current position as director of the Center for Genomic Medicine, his mission is to assist clinicians in the management of health and disease by developing and translating genomic information.
Ginsburg is a faculty member of the Duke Department of Medicine and a founder of the Personalized Medicine Coalition, a Washington DC-based non-profit organization. He is the recipient of several research awards, holds positions on editorial boards of journals for genomics and pharmacogenomics, and was recently part of an international expert panel for Genome Canada and Genoma Espana.
You’ve been at the head of the Center for Genomic Medicine for about a month now. What has changed since you arrived?
There’s a sense of structure and purpose — there’s now a focal point for work related to translational genomics in the Center for Genomic Medicine. I think that there’s a coalescence of a lot of diverse areas of expertise, not just at the Center, but in the Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy here at Duke.
So, we’ve actually moved into a new building, where some of the new faculty recruits were hired over the last six months or so, as well as other laboratories that have been engaged in genome related research and translational aspects are now basically cohabitating in a building that is also shared by biomedical engineering. So there’s really a forum for interchange of very diverse scientific ideas related to clinical genomics, which I think all of that has truly happened in the last month — not specifically related to my being here, but certainly contemporaneously with it.
Can you tell me more about the staff, as well as how many new recruits there are and what they bring to the Center?
People that have affiliation with the Center for Genome Sciences and Policy — there are probably 70 or so individuals that are working on IGSP projects. They’re not all housed within the facility that I just mentioned, but they’re certainly bona fide members of the Institute.
New recruits are bringing very diverse areas of expertise, ranging from people that are: involved in health policy and ethics — which are not in the Center for Genomic Medicine, but are in the Center for Genome Ethics, Law and Policy, part of the IGSP; to individuals who are involved in developing new algorithms for analyzing sequence information; to biostatisticians that are involved in doing complex data analysis combining clinical and large datasets from large experiments, such as microarray experiments; to clinician scientists that are trying to understand the molecular architecture of various diseases, such as cancer and some forms of cardiovascular disease.
We’re not done recruiting, but if you think about it, what we’re trying to do is build a cross-disciplinary team that can really move genetics and genomics into patient care. And what you need to have is people that can do some of the fundamental biology, people that can do some of the translational research in human studies, people that are really thinking about some of the policy issues and defining the path for entry of some of the predictive markers into clinical testing that we want to deliver into healthcare.
So, think about what that means and you’ll get an idea of the very diverse group of skillsets that needs to be in place.
How much recruiting is left?
Well, I’ve only been here a month, so part of what I’m trying to do is understand some of the strengths, capabilities, and competencies that exist here that can be put into place to form some of these translational programs, and then the recruiting will fill in some of the major gaps. So, it’s an unknown.
We’re extremely interested in bringing in people that have expertise in pharmacogenomics, that have actually done population studies, that are interested in molecular epidemiology — I think those are areas that are on the clinical research side — as well as individuals that are familiar with setting up diagnostic testing labs, that could really facilitate some of the translational aspects of developing the right assays for mobilizing a predictive test into healthcare and into clinical medicine.
So, it’s a little difficult to say with exactitude what the breadth of recruiting will be over the next year or so. But we’ve led this effort out of some existing strengths at Duke in cancer biology and cancer genomics, as well as in cardiovascular biology, cardiovascular genomics, and cardiovascular clinical trials. But it’s fair to say that I think that there are certainly other opportunities here to expand the research into neurodegenerative diseases, chronic inflammatory diseases, as well as environmental exposures and resulting inflammatory diseases. Those are the areas that I would give serious consideration to over the next year as I build these programs.
What are the goals of this cross-disciplinary team is working toward, specifically?
There are a couple of dimensions that are largely undefined because we are really in the process of pulling the teams together that can really sharpen the goals.
Nevertheless, I think there is some low-hanging fruit, if you want to look at it that way. In the two areas that I mentioned — cancer, as well as cardiovascular disease — there have been efforts predating my arrival here, where one of my colleagues, Joe Nevins, and his group have led efforts to define molecular descriptors of breast cancer aggressiveness and predisposition to metastatic disease. I think that this is potentially an area that can really enhance physicians’ abilities to make decisions about chemotherapy for breast cancer. One of our goals for the next year, just to put a timeline on it, would be to define how we can begin to implement some of these microarray-based molecular signatures that are obtained by probing tumor tissue that is obtained by biopsy from patients. And to be able to implement that kind of microarray analysis in the clinical oncology units here, and begin to really test their ability to improve health outcomes.
Additionally, in the cardiovascular arena, Pascal Goldschmidt, who is the chief of medicine here — his laboratory has done some excellent work in atherosclerosis — recently published this month in Atherosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology — a very high-level journal in cardiovascular disease — a study that has shown how expression profiling of lesions from aortas obtained from humans who unfortunately succumb to motor vehicle accidents — looking at expression profiles of atherosclerotic lesions in those individuals has really been able to help define biology with a lot more precision, as well as forming the basis for developing a very powerful predictive test for the presence or absence of cardiovascular disease non-invasively. Our intent is to really begin to move that dataset forward into broader clinical applications, so that we can potentially have predictive tests for vascular disease more readily available to clinicians as a tool to use.
So I think there are a couple of very important projects that are ongoing here that can really have some significant impact in clinical decision making.
Can you tell me more about key areas of pharmacogenomic work that is being done at the Center?
In the ovarian cancer area, for example, there are pharmacogenomic predictor sets that were developed here that can help predict a woman’s response to platinum-containing therapeutic agents, and with those agents in breast cancer as well.
In the cardiovascular arena, as part of clinical trials ongoing here, there is pharmacogenomic testing using protein biomarkers predicting outcomes in patients that are having acute coronary syndromes. And the pharmacogenomics of glycoprotein 2B3A inhibitors, which is a class of agent that is used in patients who have unstable angina or acute coronary syndromes.
So those are some areas I’m aware of, but I’m still trying to get a sense of what is happening here at Duke.
You moved here from Millennium Pharmaceuticals. How has your experience there prepared you for this position?
I don’t think I could have taken this position without having been at Millennium, the reason being that Millennium was a great opportunity for me to be exposed to and lead big science. The scale of research at Millennium wasn’t comparable to what I had the opportunity to do before joining the company.
Secondly, my role — particularly over the last four years — was to really define the paradigm using molecular medicine and clinical development and actually developing pharmacogenomic and other biomarker tools.
So, in essence, I believe that I was — through my work at Millennium — one of the thought leaders in this area of personalized medicine. It was an extremely valuable experience for me to understand the path to both discovering and validating biomarkers that could be used, in that case, in the context of clinical development here. I think one of the attractions to me at Duke is that here the opportunity to really drive that whole research paradigm closer to the patient is what has brought me to Duke, rather than remaining in the pharmaceutical industry.