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Partnering on Multiscale Biology

PacBio CSO Eric Schadt to lead a ‘Multiscale Institute’ at Mount Sinai.

By Kevin Davies 

August 2, 2011 | Pacific Biosciences has announced a partnership with Mount Sinai School of Medicine (MSSM) in New York to create the Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology. 

The director of the new institute will be PacBio’s chief science officer, Eric Schadt, who is retaining his non-operational position at PacBio while moving to New York this summer to run the center. The institute will be the hub of genomics research at MSSM, collaborating with 13 other translational and core facilities at Mount Sinai, and incorporating a user facility featuring PacBio’s technology. 

The MSSM SMRT Biology facility will be equipped with R&D versions or “Astros” of the PacBio instruments. They will be available for use by institute researchers as well as other collaborators in the eastern half of the country. MSSM Dean Dennis Charney says he expects to invest more than $100 million in the new institute over the next 5-6 years, as part of a $1-billion capital campaign for MSSM. “We’ve raised $750 million and it’s ahead of schedule,” said Charney, with the initial funding coming from philanthropy. 

Charney believes that the large-scale generation and integration of multiple sources of biological data, integrated with clinical information, will expand MSSM’s ability to characterize disease and ultimately benefit patients. “The Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology will be at the forefront of the revolution in genetics and genomic sciences, which will fundamentally change the practice of medicine,” he added. 

Dual Role 

The new institute is an expansion of MSSM’s Institute of Genomics, which was formed a couple of years ago. Charney had been recruiting a new leader for the institute to succeed medical geneticist Robert Desnick, who is stepping down as director and as the Chair of the MSSM genetics department. Schadt is taking on both positions. 

Charney began recruiting Schadt as the new head of the department. “I went after him big time,” he says. It quickly became clear that “a partnership with PacBio would be good for Mount Sinai, apparently good for PacBio, and was something that Eric really endorsed. To me, it seemed like a win-win,” he continued.  

“We get access to PacBio technology, which we’re all very excited about. And they get, in a sense, access to the great research we’re doing here, the patient populations that could be like a testing site.” 

Schadt waves off concerns that other next-generation sequencing and technology vendors might not be inclined to collaborate with the new MSSM multiscale institute team. “Other companies will be very hungry to work with the institute at MSSM,” Schadt told Bio•IT World, “because our vision is to become a dominant force in integrating data from many technologies and developing predictive models that impact physician and patient decision making. This will help grow the market and all will benefit, so there will be strong incentive for many companies to be part of that—or watch it from the outside!” 

“It’s not an exclusive relationship with PacBio,” says Charney. “We have Illumina machines and so forth. You can’t stick with one technology platform. So we’re going to be active in all of those platforms. However, I can see that Illumina might say, ‘It’s fine if you buy our commercial machines, but we’re not going to share our latest next-gen machine.’ That may be a consequence of this, but we’re certainly going to be buying other commercial machines.” 

Patient Partner 

For its part, PacBio had been seeking a potential academic partner for more than a year to help develop new applications for its technology and gain access to patients to move the technology into the clinic. MSSM stepped into the picture after talks with UCSF stalled. Sounding themes around the integration of genomic, expression, and clinical data that have typified his earlier career at Rosetta Inpharmatics and Merck (see, “Eric Schadt’s Integrative Approach to Predictive Biology,” Bio•IT World, Oct 2008), Schadt said: “Multiscale data integration, including genomic, expression, metabolite, protein, and clinical information, will ultimately define the future of patient care. With our intent to collaborate in areas such as newborn screening for rare genetic disorders, infectious diseases and cancer, we hope to  accelerate this revolution, starting by integrating clinical data with previously untapped biological information to build new computational models for predicting human disease.” 

“Multiscale Biology” is a term that Schadt coined. The way Charney understands the term, “we’re talking about systems genetics, integrative genetics, systems biology, which we’re very strong in at Mount Sinai. The idea of one gene/one disease or looking at genes in isolation from pathways doesn’t make sense. That’s totally in line with the way we’re doing things.” • 

This story also appeared in the 2011 July-August issue of Bio-IT World magazine.  

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