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PPGx Receives $98,000 Grant to Develop Gene Expression Software for Drug Addiction

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PPGx of Morrisville, NC, an 18-month-old developer of pharmacogenomics research products, has been awarded a $98,000 grant from the US Department of Health and Human Services’ National Institute for Drug Addiction to develop software to uncover and analyze gene expression patterns in drug addiction.

Separately, the company has also formed a partnership with the Bioinformatics Research Center at North Carolina State University.

“These changes will allow us to enlarge our bioinformatics and statistical genomics areas,” said Josh Baker, president and CEO of PPGx.

PPGx will use the NIDA money to create a Java-based software program. The company will use Web-based visualization and analytical methods to sift through pharmacogenomic data, concentrating on allele frequency, gene expression, gene variants, and other information.

“We are building custom tools to look at gene expression,” said Baker, who stressed that there will be standard data interchange.

Baker expects that by the end of the six-month grant, the software’s design will be finalized and ready for implementation by PPGx. The new software, which has not been named yet, will be incorporated into the company’s software family, GeneTrials, which was launched in July after a three-year, multi-million dollar research and development effort. Baker expects some components of the NIDA-sponsored software to be merged into GeneTrials within a year.

GeneTrials, already used by a few clients that Baker declined to name, can browse, query, and analyze pharmacogenomic and clinical data sets. It can also design clinical trials.

PPGx will also be collaborating with North Carolina State University’s newly created Bioinformatics Research Center, located on the school’s business-based Centennial Campus in Raleigh, NC. Graduate students will work on their theses and dissertations alongside regular faculty as part of the partnership, placing genes in microarrays to find out which are being expressed. From this study the students and faculty will develop gene expression algorithms, and hope to eventually produce software that predicts gene expression.

“Everybody wins in this partnership,” said Bruce Weir, director of the NC State center. “Our students get on-the-job training, and our longstanding arrangement with PPGx will benefit them too.”

PPGx will provide data from its collaboration with PPD’s clinical lab, Sequana. “We bring to the table data and questions. We have practical problems that people are interested in solving,” Baker said.

PPGx is a joint venture of Pharmaceutical Product Development and Axys Pharmaceuticals. PPD, the fourth largest contract research organization in the world according to Market Guide, will be marketing all of PPGx’s products, including the new software.

Baker is confident about his company’s future, citing ties to its parent companies and the way PPGx’s software approaches pharmacogenomics. “Instead of using a system that concentrates on sequence alignment, multiple sequence alignment or other problems, we start with specific variants, and go from there,” he said.

In Baker’s view, PPGx faces different rivals across the range of pharmacogenomics services, including Genomica, Genaissance, and SignalGene in software development, genomic variation information, and pharmacogenomic services, respectively.

—Martha Heil

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