VARI Garners $1.5M State Award

September 8, 2006
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LANSING — The Van Andel Research Institute was one of only two applicants from West Michigan chosen to share in more than $100 million in 21st Century Jobs Fund monies. Statewide, there were 61 awardees.

The institute was awarded $1.51 million for the development of a research alliance called ClinXus, an initiative spearheaded by Principal Investigator Craig Webb, Ph.D. Partners in the alliance are Grand Valley Internal Medicine Specialists, Grand Valley State University, Jasper Clinical Research and Development Inc., Saint Mary’s Health Care, Spectrum Health and the Van Andel Research Institute.

ClinXus will market the expertise and clinical research capabilities of all six partners to pharmaceutical companies, biotech firms and institutions that want to run clinical trials on new medicines, devices and diagnostics. ClinXus also will promote the combined talent pool and emerging technologies of its six partners.

Webb said with the $1.5 million, the alliance can now hire an executive director, product coordinator and administrator for ClinXus.

“We’re going to get the hires coming in much earlier than we would have otherwise and get things going faster,” he said.

XB TransMed Solutions LLC, a life sciences startup that provides translation medicine software and services, was awarded $508,263 to build a large scale data integration for its XB-BioIntegration Suite software application, formerly known as XenoBase. XenoBase was the first biologic software application with the ability to integrate data from a number of sources all at once, including data from clinical trials, animal models, patient medical histories, and individual profiles of genes, chromosomes and proteins. In fact, Webb and fellow VARI scientist Jeremy Miller, Ph.D., invented XenoBase. XenoBase was licensed out of the institute for development, and their original technology was spun off into XB TransMed Solutions, which now serves as the commercial arm of that technology, said XB TransMed CEO Gerald Callahan.

“The reason the company was formed was because the institute was having some pretty positive success in the market with XenoBase, but as a nonprofit, the institute was not in the position to professionally develop, manage and support the software in a way a for-profit company would,” Callahan said. “What this company is about is the professional development, support and enhancement of the XenoBase technology from the institute.”

XB TransMed has a licensing agreement with the institute to sell it to third parties. VARI gets a royalty on the sales.

The state funding will allow XB TransMed to build its large scale data integration piece much quicker, Callahan said.

“There’s a defined need in the marketplace to have large-scale data integration for bioinformatics systems,” he explained. “Right now, a lot of the installations we have are departmental in nature, so we’ll go to a department that likes our software, load a server and have five or six users, and all their data is on the server. What we’re going to do with this funding is actually go into a large company, like a Pfizer, or a Lily or a Merck, and show how we can help them integrate all of their data for analysis.”

The Jobs Fund awards funding to qualified project proposals in the fields of alternative energy, advanced manufacturing, life sciences and homeland security and defense. According to the Michigan Economic Development Corp., which administers the 21st Century Jobs Fund program, 25 project proposals in the field of life sciences were awarded a total of $45.7 million; four projects focusing on alternative energy were awarded $8.9 million in total; 26 projects involving advanced automotive materials and manufacturing shared $37.3 million in funding; and six homeland security/defense projects received a collective $9.3 million.

Over the past eight months, the original field of 505 applicants was narrowed to 179 finalists through an independent peer-review process conducted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest science and engineering association and publisher of Science magazine. Proposals were chosen based on their commercial merit, expertise of personnel, scientific and technical merit, and the institution’s or company’s ability to leverage funds from other sources. Association experts made the final recommendations to the Michigan Strategic Economic Investment and Commercialization Board.

“Our goal was to select companies that are best positioned to help diversify Michigan’s economy,” said David Canter, chair of the investment and commercialization board and director of Pfizer research operations in Ann Arbor. “The companies we chose to invest in have undergone intense interviews and scrutiny and represent the ‘best-of-the-best’ proposals we received.”    

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