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Sunshine State collaboration
March 2012
by David Hutton  |  Email the author

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ORLANDO, Fla.—With the benefit of longstanding relationships serving as a foundation, the Moffitt Cancer Center, Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute and Florida Hospital have formed a partnership to invest in personalized cancer treatments. The result is the creation of the Personalized Medicine Partnership (PMP) of Florida, which will conduct collaborative research to accelerate discovery and develop new treatments in oncology.  
 
According to Dr. John Reed, CEO of Sanford-Burnham, the ultimate goal of the partnership is to conduct collaborative research to accelerate biomarker and target discovery with an initial focus on developing new personalized treatments in the areas of cancer and also metabolic diseases, including obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.  
 
Reed adds that the parties believe there is significant opportunity to create synergies between the research and clinical care organizations to advance scientific discoveries and translation of compassionate care, cures and prevention of disease.
 
"PMP Florida is a unique partnership including three organizations with very complementary areas of expertise and experience," says Dr. David Moorhead, senior vice president and chief medical officer at Florida Hospital. "Moffitt has demonstrated world-class experience and competency in acquiring, categorizing and storing biologic specimens. Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute is renowned for its internationally recognized scientific faculty, multiple sophisticated diagnostic platforms and a commitment to transforming basic science research into clinically available treatments. Florida Hospital is the largest hospital in Florida with broad, innovative and superior clinical expertise."  
 
 Des Cummings, executive partner of Florida Hospital, explains that each of the three partners came to the table with a culture of innovation and each is motivated to creatively solve the toughest medical care problems that exist today. 
 
"This is bolstered by executive committed to developing a culture of health and healing," Cummings notes. "Each of the partners have embraced a shared vision of personalized medicine and are willing to invest in realizing that vision."
 
Reed adds that a key goal of the partnership is to attract industry clients, including pharmaceutical and biotech companies, which can use the partnership as a resource to discover and develop new advances in healthcare. The partnership will exemplify how personalized medicine discoveries made in research labs will improve healthcare in hospitals, clinics and medical offices in Florida and nationally.  
 
"The field of medicine is on the brink of transformation based on next-gen DNA sequencing and other technologies that enable biomarker discovery," Reed says. "We believe that the partnership with Moffitt, Sanford-Burnham and Florida Hospital provides the infrastructure to create personalized treatment plans based on biomarker discovery technology platforms. We seek to identify molecular signatures that dissect disease heterogeneity into different treatment strategies that improve healthcare outcomes while ideally also reducing healthcare costs."  
 
Collaborations between research and clinical organizations are increasing as a means to access complementary resources, attract more sizable grant revenues and enhance the translation of laboratory research to clinical application.  
 
"I believe that it is becoming more and more widely accepted that we are on the cusp of a new era of medicine with the opportunities that are being made available to us," Reed says. "We have opportunities through next-gen DNA sequencing on one hand, and on the other hand, the challenges around healthcare costs and how we can eventually evolve the practice of medicine to something more of a science and less of an art—and get more of the trial and error out of it and make it more efficient in terms of healthcare delivery."
 
That new landscape in personalized medicine provides the perfect opportunity for PMP Florida, notes Dr. William Dalton, CEO and center director of Moffitt.  
 
"This is an incredible opportunity for the three to come together and capitalize on our strengths to create a better product, which is information," he says.
 
PMP Florida also will leverage Moffitt's Total Cancer Care to develop similar research and clinical protocols in other disease areas including metabolic diseases.  
 
According to Dalton, Total Cancer Care is a treatment path that begins by mapping the more than 30,000 genes that make up a tumor to find its own unique genetic fingerprint. Through personalized medicine, Moffitt is working to create individualized therapies that are specific to each patient's type of cancer, and the way each person responds to the disease and treatment therapies.  
 
PMP Florida will provide researchers at the partnering institutions with access a robust research and clinical care infrastructure. Bio-samples representing a variety of diseases will be derived from Florida Hospital's expansive patient population. Pilot projects will utilize Moffitt's genome mapping, information systems and clinical research protocols developed through Total Cancer Care. The research will be empowered by Sanford-Burnham's scientific expertise in genomics and metabolics technology platforms.
 
A business development plan will be created with input from representatives of the three partnering organizations. A steering committee will prioritize research projects.
 
"Our initial target is the creation of the PMP infrastructure—a pioneering effort in itself," Reed says. "We expect the bulk of the formation of systems in year one with multiple biomarker discovery projects up and running in year two."  
 
As for funding, Reed notes that each organization will bear its own costs and expenses for its respective activities in connection with the development and execution of the partnership. The initial phase of this relationship will focus on collaboration efforts for care and research between researchers and physicians at Moffitt, Sanford-Burnham and Florida Hospital. Reed adds that the partners will emphasize short-term "wins" and milestones, which will include research and joint publications.
 
"As these initial collaborations become better established, we will continue to phase in other areas of collaboration," he says.
 
Reed says success of PMP Florida will be measured "by the impact that our discoveries make on healthcare outcomes, healthcare cost savings and the economic development opportunities created."
 
Moreover, Cummings points out that success also will be defined across the matrix of the PMP activities.   
 
"Important milestones will be the development of our first clinic/hospital ready biomarker, external industry partnerships which capitalize on the PMP infrastructure and ultimately, improvements in the quality and healthcare cost reductions," Cummings says. "Ultimately, the success of the partnership will be based on the ability to improve diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease. This is a journey that is worthy of our best efforts, and is fueled by our common commitment to advance the health and well-being of all humanity."  
 

 
Sanford-Burnham researchers find molecular switch that allows melanoma to resist therapy
 
LA JOLLA, Calif.—A research team at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute is working to unravel the molecular mechanisms underlying melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.  
 
The laboratory of Dr. Ze'ev Ronai has been studying a protein named Activating Transcription Factor 2 (ATF2), which is associated with poor prognosis in melanoma. ATF2 is oncogenic in melanoma ells and acts as a tumor suppressor in non-malignant types of skin cancers. In a paper published Feb. 3 in the journal Cell, the team identified a molecular switch that controls ATF2's dual functions. This switch is controlled by protein kinase Cε (PKCε), which disables ATF2's tumor-suppressing activities, sensitizing cells to chemotherapy; instead, ATF2's tumor-promoting activity is enhanced. The team also found that high levels of PKCε in melanoma are associated with poor prognosis.  
 
In the study, Ronai and lead author Dr. Eric Lau found that PKCε's malignant power is in its ability to direct ATF2's location and activity within a cell. In a normal cell, PKCε modifies ATF2, keeping it in the nucleus, where it turns genes on and off and helps repair damaged DNA. When the cell experiences exposure to toxicity or stress, PKCε backs off and ATF2 is able to move out of the nucleus and to the mitochondria, the part of the cell that generates energy and helps control cellular life and death. When it gets there, ATF2 helps to set the cell on a death course—a safeguard cells use to prevent errors that often make them cancerous.  
 
PKCε levels are abnormally high in melanoma, and more PKCε means more ATF2 stuck in the nucleus, where it can't help the cells to die. Instead, in the nucleus, ATF2 promotes cellular survival and thus contributes to tumor development.  
 
The researchers are now searching for small molecules that help release ATF2 from PKCε's grip, thereby resuming ATF2's ability to promote cell death when needed. Since such an approach will effectively kill melanoma cells, it is expected to offer new therapeutic options for melanoma and possibly other tumors with high PKCε levels.  
 
"This work has clear potential for translation from a basic laboratory discovery to a melanoma therapy," said Dr. Michael Jackson, vice president of drug discovery and development at Sanford-Burnham, in a statement. "We are excited to begin the screening process to identify a new class of drugs to treat cancer." 
 
Code: E031204

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