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TGen, Biodesign Institute awarded for economic development

August 28, 2009

Governor presents ‘Excellence’ award for Partnership for Personalized Medicine; program draws investment to Arizona from Luxembourg

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer awarded a top award for economic development to the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University.

TGen and ASU’s Partnership for Personalized Medicine won the 2009 Excellence in Economic Development award in the category of Innovative Economic Development. This was the first award presented by Gov. Brewer at the 2009 Governor’s Regional and Rural Development Conference, held Aug. 26-28 at the Wigwam Resort in Litchfield Park.

The focus of the conference, presented by the Arizona Department of Commerce and the Arizona Association for Economic Development, was on preparing Arizona for economic recovery. The purpose of the awards is to honor partnerships, organizations, associations, service clubs and companies which have successfully created and implemented community and economic development strategies in the past year.

The Partnership for Personalized Medicine is a collaboration between TGen, ASU’s Biodesign Institute and Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The venture with the Government of Luxembourg will speed new personalized healthcare treatments to patients, reduce costs, create a European clinical research center, and bring national and international investment to Arizona.

An alliance between Phoenix-based non-profit TGen, ASU’s Biodesign Institute and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg was announced in June 2008. By March 2009, an internationally recognized leader in the storage and dissemination of biologic samples was hired to lead the new Integrated Biobank of Luxembourg, and in April 2009, a ceremonial groundbreaking marked the start of the Biobank’s construction.

So how does a new Biobank institution in far away Luxembourg relate to economic development in Arizona?

Started in 2002, TGen has emerged as a national and international powerhouse of scientific research into the molecular, DNA-level causes and treatments of debilitating diseases of the heart, brain, many forms of cancer and infectious diseases. That same year, ASU’s Biodesign Institute was launched to address some of the world’s most urgent problems affecting human health and the health of our planet.

Both organizations are committed to attracting new investment dollars to Arizona in an effort to enhance existing businesses, spin-off new ones and generally catalyze Arizona’s growing global reputation as a leader in biomedical innovation.

In October 2007, the Virginia G. Piper Trust committed $35 million and the Flinn Foundation contributed $10 million to establish the Partnership for Personalized Medicine, comprised of these two organizations, and engaged Nobel Laureate Lee Hartwell, director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute to lead the effort and serve as its third partner.

Luxembourg, with the world’s highest per capita income, is a European hub of international banking. Looking to diversify its economy, its government was attracted to TGen’s highly successful model to become an explosive incubator of new ideas through collaborations with hundreds of other research institutes, private businesses and universities. Luxembourg sought out TGen, and TGen recommended that the Partnership for Personalized Medicine engage with them as well.

The Luxembourg partnership consists of three components:

• The Integrated Biobank of Luxembourg, led by TGen, was created to provide researchers worldwide with usable and reliable biological samples, include cancer tumors, organ samples and blood.
• Luxembourg Project Lung Cancer, led jointly by the partners of Arizona’s Partnership for Personalized Medicine, is developing a protein-based test for lung cancer with the goals of early detection, revolutionary and improved patient treatments, and reduced healthcare costs.
•  The Center for Systems Biology Luxembourg, led by the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, is tracking 100 individuals to see how genes lead to diseases, and developing health tests based on blood protein “fingerprints.’’

As mentioned above, the Integrated Biobank of Luxembourg has begun, with operations starting out of temporary quarters starting in July.

Luxembourg Project Lung Cancer will rely on the work of the Partnership for Personalized Medicine, funded by Arizona’s Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust and the Flinn Foundation.

Both TGen and the Biodesign Institute have also been rapidly ramping up their diagnostic capabilities, a critical component. In February, the Biodesign Institute established the Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics. In May, TGen completed construction at its downtown Phoenix headquarters of its Center for Proteomics, another key segment of the Partnership.

The Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, Center for Systems Biology Luxembourg and the University of Luxembourg have begun their first year of study focused on exploring different sequencing methods.