CMM Takes It 'Personal'

January 9, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — When the Van Andel Institute and Spectrum Health established the $6 million Center for Molecular Medicine in March, they opened a venue for Grand Rapids’ “Medical Mile” to fully enter the genomic era of medicine.

CMM scientists and physicians research diseases such as cancer, heart disease and mental illness at the DNA, RNA and protein levels, and apply the most current genetic and molecular science directly to patient care. VAI provides the scientific expertise and intellectual property, while Spectrum provides access to patients and their physicians. 

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.

“When we talk about personalization, we mean personalization just for you, and this is a big step forward in our ability to offer medicine at that level,” said David Van Andel, VAI chairman and CEO.

“It’s a big deal for hospitals and it’s a big deal for patients in the West Michigan area and elsewhere.”

Linda Chamberlain, executive director of the West Michigan Science & Technology Initiative, said CMM is “one of the legs of a stool.” First, there’s the VAI doing basic and translational research relative to bioinformatics and genome information. Then there’s ClinXus, the Phase I clinical trial organization formed in 2006 by VAI, Spectrum Health, Saint Mary’s Health Care, Jasper Clinical Research & Development, Grand Valley Internal Medicine Specialists, a local physicians’ group, and Grand Valley State University. ClinXus promotes its partner institutions’ expertise and clinical research capabilities to pharmaceutical and biotech companies and institutions that want to run clinical trials on new medicines, devices and diagnostics.

“Then there’s CMM, which is central to collecting information from samples and delivering the information back to the VAI, which, in turn, ties ClinXus in for the delivery of information to a customer,” Chamberlain explained. “They are interdependent, and they will draw national attention to Grand Rapids and the community’s capabilities for cutting-edge, biomarker-driven research.”

CMM presents some wonderful opportunities in terms of genomic medicine for local and regional patients and physicians, said Daniel H. Farkas, CMM’s executive director. Through his connections in the diagnostic industry, Farkas has been able to tap business opportunities on the diagnostic side for Grand Rapids via the CMM. ClinXus adds to that effort by mining opportunities on the pharmaceutical side. 

Farkas has executed six contracts that will generate more than $1 million in revenue this year, and he expects to close on two more contracts in the first quarter. There are many more contracts in various stages of maturity in the pipeline and on the verge of being signed, he added.

“All of the contracts are out-of-state or international, so we’re bringing new dollars from outside Michigan into the region,” Farkas noted.

Lody Zwarensteyn, president of the Alliance for Health, said CMM is one of the things that really shows the promise of what’s going on in Grand Rapids. The center has the ability to analyze a person’s genotype to allow for the best selection of drugs that will cure whatever condition the person has, Zwarensteyn said.

“When you ‘type’ a person, you don’t lose time trying out a drug on a patient and don’t waste drugs that may not work on that individual,” Zwarensteyn remarked.

“You’re able to do the right drug at the right time, right away. That’s the way of the future. This is huge.”

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