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You Want It Monogrammed? Personalized Meds an NC 'SuperScieNCe'

 Photo: shutterstock.com

By Barry Teater, NCBiotech Writer

Delivering precise treatments customized for each person’s unique genetic makeup is the powerful promise of personalized medicine, and North Carolina is already a leader in this new era of genomics-based health care.

In fact, a study of the state’s life science landscape says the fast-unfolding field of personalized medicine and diagnostics is one of six emerging life science technology sectors likely to flourish into the future. The Battelle Technology Partnership Practice identified the sector based on its analysis of innovation, research and industry activity among the state’s universities and companies. The North Carolina Biotechnology Center has labeled the six “SuperScieNCe.”

Companies and university researchers throughout the state are using genomics, biomarkers, sequencing and other cell and tissue technologies to deliver custom molecular therapeutics and diagnostics tailored to individual patient profiles. Here are some prime examples:

  • Argos Therapeutics of Durham is focused on the development and commercialization of personalized immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer and infectious diseases. The company’s Arcelis technology, based on research at Duke University, uses a patient’s dendritic cells to activate an immune response specific to his or her disease. Argos has two drug candidates in clinical trials: one for the treatment of metastatic renal cell carcinoma and one for the treatment of HIV. Argos broke ground in 2014 for a $57 million, 100,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Durham with plans to add nearly 250 employees. The company raised $45 million in a February 2014 initial public offering of stock.  
  • Metabolon of Durham is a pioneer in metabolomics, the systematic study of metabolites, the unique chemical fingerprints left behind by the body’s vital cellular processes, or metabolism. The company’s technology and informatics systems are yielding new insight into how the presence and quantity of various metabolites in body fluids and tissues can indicate states of health and disease. Since its founding in 2000, Metabolon has completed more than 4,000 research projects for nearly 700 clients from both industry and academia and has developed its own products, two diagnostic blood tests for prediabetes. The companyclosed on $15 million in a Series E financing in 2014 and employs about 160 people.
  • Genova Diagnostics of Asheville is a clinical laboratory that provides systems-based testing to help physicians provide targeted diagnosis, treatment and prevention of chronic disease.  The company serves 8,000 health care providers with more than 125 specialized diagnostic assessments covering digestion, immunology, metabolic function, endocrinology and nutrition. Genova employs more than 200 people.
  • Lucerno Dynamics of Morrisville is developing sensor technology that can detect and measure the uptake of radiolabeled biomarkers used in health care.  The noninvasive technology can improve the effectiveness of PET and CT scans and provide oncologists an analysis of a tumor’s response to therapy early in a cancer patient’s treatment.
  • ClinGen is an NIH-funded clinical genomics resource launched in May 2015 by a consortium including researchers from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. Its purpose is to determine the clinical relevance of genetic variants for use in precision medicine and research. ClinGen is developing standard procedures to assess whether there is a true relationship between a given gene and disease, whether a variant in that gene causes or contributes to disease, and if so, whether there is a specific therapeutic or monitoring strategy that could help a patient with that variant.

It's not selfish to "do your own thing" when that means targeting illness with a therapy that'll get the job done efficiently while minimizing side effects. It's just good medicine. And it's good for the future of North Carolina's burgeoning life science base.

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