TGen News & Press Releases : Businessman-philanthropist assists TGen-VARI study of rare cancer

A partnership between Luxembourg and the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) begins in earnest today (July 6, 2009) with the arrival of a new CEO and the advent of a new building for the Integrated Biobank of Luxembourg (IBBL).

The IBBL is seen as an international collection, repository, analysis and distribution point for blood, serum, saliva, tumors and other biospecimen samples to assist investigators worldwide in scientific research.

"I think it's fantastic. This project helps Luxembourg with their long-term goals, while providing Arizona with significant investments. At the same time, it holds the promise of furthering scientific investigations on a global basis," said Dr. Jeffrey Trent, President and Research Director. "We've already made a lot of progress."

The IBBL is part of a 140-million-euro effort (more than $190 million) over five years to help turn Luxembourg develop into one of Europe's foremost biomedical centers - one uniquely focused on diagnostic biomarkers. The effort is wide-ranging and dynamic in its goals of improving patient care while lowering healthcare costs.

The project already has expanded in scope since it was announced last year. For example, while initial plans focused on collecting tissues for cancer research, the IBBL is studying an international project involving the collection of biospecimens across Europe and Africa in an investigation of cardio-vascular disease.

And, the information technology needed to process tissue samples has resulted in new computer software developed jointly by TGen and Luxembourg investigators at the Institute Henri Tudor that could have commercial uses, said Tess Burleson, TGen's Chief Operating Officer.

TGen Chief Information Officer Dr. Ed Suh said that the new technology has drawn interest from several non-profit and for-profit institutions, including Dell, the computer maker headed by Michael Dell, who visited TGen in December.

Also showing interest in the TGen-Luxembourg partnership are several potential start-up biomedical sciences firms in Arizona.

In March, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. and chairman of TGen Foundation's National Advisory Council, made a working visit to Luxembourg to discuss global topics of mutual interest to Arizona and Luxembourg, as well as to receive first-hand briefings about TGen's biomedical projects.

In April, Jeannot Krecké, Luxembourg's Minister of the Economy and Foreign Trade, visited Arizona for discussions with TGen. While here, the minister made contacts with other businesses, such as First Solar, a Tempe-based solar energy company.

"When searching for a partner to help us establish what we hope will be Europe's premier biotech infrastructure in Luxembourg, we sought out TGen because it is a world-class model of how high-quality science programs can be created in a relatively short period of time," Minister Krecké said.

Also in April, ground was broken for the IBBL's new building, on the campus of Luxembourg's Public Research Centre for Health (Centre de Recherche Public Santé, or CPR-Santé). The new facility is set for completion in October.

Dr. Jean-Claude Schmit, chairman of the Board of IBBL and CEO of CRP-Santé recalled the ambitions of the IBBL in the field of biomedical research. He underscored the crucial and innovative role the biobank will play.

"The IBBL will allow us to have state-of-the-art samples for research. It is opening our country to international research. For TGen, it's an opportunity to access the European research market," said Schmit, who also is chairman of the seven-member governing board of the IBBL.

Heading the IBBL will be Dr. Robert Hewitt, who starts today (July 6, 2009) as Chief Executive Officer. Over the next several months, Dr. Hewitt will hire a staff of nearly 70.

"This is a really exciting and promising partnership. Thanks to generous government funding, careful planning and expert guidance from partners at TGen, we have all the right ingredients to develop a world-class biobank, biorefinery and advanced technology center in Luxembourg. This unique infrastructure will support collaborative research at the forefront of developments in personalized medicine," Dr. Hewitt said.

Most recently, Dr. Hewitt was Director of the Tissue Repository & Hospital-based Cancer Registry at the National University Hospital in Singapore. Hewitt also developed biobanks in England and Saudi Arabia. He is the recent former president of the International Society for Biological and Environmental Repositories, an association that aims to promote best practices in the management of biobanks, which store such items as clinical samples for research, microbial cultures, biodiversity samples and even museum collections.

Meantime, TGen and Luxembourg officials are working on a program that would enable Luxembourg's first doctorate-level students to study in the U.S. at TGen. And, hospital nurses from Luxembourg visited Phoenix-area hospitals in recent weeks to learn new techniques and procedures for ensuring storage of the highest quantity and quality of biomedical research specimens. Luxembourg pathologists begin arriving today at TGen.

Key researchers from Luxembourg will visit TGen this week as part of an effort to ramp up the scientific understanding among officials at TGen, the IBBL, the University of Luxembourg and the Grand Duchy's three Public Research Centers.

Creation of the Luxembourg Program in Personalized Medicine includes three major projects:

-- Creation of the IBBL in partnership with TGen.

-- The Arizona-based Partnership for Personalized Medicine, Directed by 2001 Nobel laureate Lee Hartwell, which consists of TGen, Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute and Seattle's Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center. The PPM is working on the Luxembourg Project Lung Cancer, which is centered at the IBBL and CPR-Santé.

-- The Center for Systems Biology Luxembourg, intended to track the genetic basis of disease and develop protein-based tests. This is a partnership between the University of Luxembourg and the Seattle-based Institute for Systems Biology, headed by Dr. Leroy Hood, founder of Amgen Inc.

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About the Integrated BioBank of Luxembourg (IBBL)
The Integrated Biobank of Luxembourg - co-founded by the nation's three Public Research Centers: Santé, Tudor and Lippmann; and by the University of Luxembourg - holds the promise of becoming the premier European hub for advanced biobanking, biotechnology and biomedical informatics. While most European and U.S. biobanks focus on collection and distribution of specimens, the IBBL will implement uniform standards for collection, storage and distribution of a full range of tissue samples, including blood, serum and tumor tissues. This next-generation biobank will provide molecular-based characterizations of biospecimens linked to clinical studies. The project will leverage expertise in biology, pathology, informatics and information technology infrastructure, laboratory operations, transportation, legal matters and ethics. The IBBL will serve as a centralized resource for sharing and comparing research results through a robust, scalable and secure bioinformatics system that supports the collection, processing, storage, annotation and distribution of biospecimens and data.

Media Contact:
Mrs. Marie-Paule Hoffmann
Tel. +352 274464-30
E-mail: [email protected]

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About TGen
The Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) is a Phoenix, Arizona-based nonprofit organization dedicated to conducting groundbreaking research with life changing results. Research at TGen is focused on helping patients with diseases such as cancer, neurological disorders and diabetes. TGen is on the cutting edge of translational research where investigators are able to unravel the genetic components of common and complex diseases. Working with collaborators in the scientific and medical communities, TGen believes it can make a substantial contribution to the efficiency and effectiveness of the translational process. TGen is affiliated with the Van Andel Research Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan. For more information, visit: www.tgen.org.

Press Contact:
Steve Yozwiak
TGen Senior Science Writer
602-343-8704
[email protected]

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