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California Precision Medicine Effort Awards $2.4M to Pediatric Cancer, Infectious Disease Projects

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The California Initiative to Advance Precision Medicine, a public-private effort hosted by the University of California, San Francisco in collaboration with UC Health, said yesterday that it has awarded $2.4 million to two demonstration projects selected by a panel of experts in the areas of pediatric cancer and infectious disease.

The California Initiative aims to integrate clinical data with genomic, environmental, socioeconomic, mobile, and other data from patients to help scientists determine disease mechanisms and develop precise therapies. Both projects will involve extensive collaborations within the UC system and with other academic medical centers in California, as well as with patient advocates and companies in Silicon Valley and the biotech industry.

The so-called California Kids Cancer Comparison project, led by David Haussler, a professor of biomolecular engineering at UC Santa Cruz, and Theodore Goldstein, a research associate at UC Santa Cruz, will focus on developing bioinformatics tools to help doctors identify effective treatments for children whose cancers fail to respond to standard therapies. Specifically, they'll develop a secure web-based networking system that will match cancer therapies to children based on the genetic characteristics of their tumors.

The project will give clinicians access to and a large pool of adult and pediatric cancer datasets as well as tools to sort through the information. Patients, advocates, clinicians, and researchers will also be able to upload, analyze, and share genomic information and associated data through MedBook, an online platform that's designed to link patients, biopsy samples, doctors, and researchers in a social network framework.

The project includes investigators from UC Irvine, UCSF and Stanford University, the University of Southern California, the Pacific Pediatric Neuro-Oncology Consortium, and the Translational Genomics Research Institute. It also includes industry partners such as NuMedii, Cisco Systems, and DNAnexus.

The infectious disease project will focus on developing a single sequencing test to diagnose and treat acute infections in hospitalized patients. The project, led by Charles Chiu, an associate professor of laboratory medicine at UCSF, aims to use genetic sequencing to diagnose patients hospitalized with acute and potentially life-threatening infectious diseases.

Chiu's lab has developed a sequencing approach that is able to detect viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites with a single test, and which has been used to diagnose infections in a number of patients. The funds from the initiative will be used to validate the test at three UC medical centers in patients with encephalitis, meningitis, sepsis, or pneumonia. Genetic data from the tests will be integrated into patients' medical records, and a consult team will be available to interpret results and guide treatment.  

Chiu's team includes investigators from UCSF, UC Davis, UC Berkeley, and UCLA, and from private companies including Syapse, DNAnexus, Quest Diagnostics, and Google Genomics. The team hopes to make the test available to hospitals around the state and to eventually spread out across the country.

"Both of these projects are developing exciting new tools that promise to deliver precision medicine tests and therapies to patients within a very short timeframe, as quickly as 18 months to two years," Atul Butte, the director of UCSF's Institute for Computational Health Sciences and head of the precision medicine initiative, said in a statement. "We hope the success of these first two projects will inspire others to support this initiative, so we can fund additional promising precision medicine projects to help patients."