Spectrum VAI Form Molecular Center

March 16, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Van Andel Institute and Spectrum Health have established a $6 million Center for Molecular Medicine to research diseases such as cancer, heart disease and mental illness at the DNA, RNA and protein levels.

The two institutions announced the joint venture Tuesday at the GrandValleyStateUniversityCook-DeVosCenter for Health Sciences. The top floor of the building houses the Center for Molecular Medicine.

Richard Breon, president and CEO of Spectrum Health, said the center will help lay a foundation for personalized medicine and for future initiatives that will advance the development and delivery of highly targeted, individualized diagnostics and therapeutic treatments.

"It's something we've been talking about for the last couple of years, and we think that this whole area of personalized medicine is going to continue to put Grand Rapids on the map," Breon said.

David Van Andel, chairman and CEO of the Van Andel Institute, said the creation of the center represents a major move forward in medicine and one more way the institute can collaborate with local partners in science and medicine.

"Medicine is in the process right now of revolutionizing itself; we're moving away from the generic to the more personalized, and we're getting down to the genetic level," he said. "When we talk about personalization, we mean personalization just for you, and this is a big step forward in our ability to be able to offer medicine at that level."

The joint venture calls for the institute to provide the scientific expertise and intellectual property and for Spectrum Health to provide the access to patients and the physicians that will apply all the accumulated knowledge to patients, he explained.

Van Andel said scientists and physicians at the center will apply the most current genetic and molecular science directly to patient care. The discoveries made possible by the genomic revolution, he said, will offer physicians and patients greater certainty of early detection, more accurate diagnosis and a targeted strategy for treatment.

He said he's certain the center will meet the most important challenge of the 21st century — to apply the knowledge gleaned through the genome sciences in a dramatically new way that will enhance the quality of life.

"This is a big deal," Van Andel remarked. "It's a big deal for the institute, a big deal for hospitals in West Michigan, and a big deal for patients in the West Michigan area and elsewhere."

The center's capabilities include clinical diagnostics, high throughput/high density array analysis, real-time PCR, pharmacogenomics, tumor cell detection, biobanking and multiplex measurements of protein biomarkers.

VAI and Spectrum named Daniel Farkas, Ph.D., to the post of executive director of the center. Farkas has earned an international reputation in the field of molecular diagnostics. During his 20-year career, Farkas has established molecular diagnostics laboratories in three hospitals, including the WilliamBeaumontHospital in Royal Oak

Farkas said Spectrum Health's commitment to care and the professionalism of its medical staff, combined with the VAI's world-class translational research capabilities and accomplishments, its scientific talent and its bioinformatics expertise, gives the partnership a tangible competitive advantage.

The center will start with Spectrum Health and expand to serve physician orders for tests from hospitals throughout the country, Farkas said. It will also offer biotech and pharma companies a full array of genomic, proteomic and bioinformatic services.

The Center for Molecular Medicine has already completed its first clinical test, a genetic test called cytochrome P45 genotyping that's designed to predict a patient's response to a drug based on his ability to metabolize the drug. The test helps physicians predict therapeutic failures and possible adverse drug reactions, Farkas said.

"We've already begun discussions with Van Andel Institute researchers and collaborators on projects for different cancers and different neurological diseases. There will be no end of opportunity and we are already filling a rich pipeline."

Farkas has served as faculty at CornellUniversity, Baylor College of Medicine and WilliamBeaumontHospital, and he's currently an adjunct professor at MichiganStateUniversity. Additionally, he serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of Molecular Diagnostics, Archives of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Biotechnology Healthcare, and Diagnostic Molecular Pathology.     

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