Making the most of pharmacogenomics
May 15, 2008 By BioSpectrum / Narayan Kulkarni
(Please see details in the Asia edition of BioSpectrum, May 2008. )
Successful completion of human genome project in 2000 generated a lot of interest among scientific community in understanding the genetic risk factors. It was natural for Dr Ellson Chen, a renowned scientist in the field of large-scale DNA sequencing and human genomics who has 28 years of experience working in companies such as Celera Genomics and Genentech to do something new as an entrepreneur in the field of genomics research. Hence Vita Genomics was established in 2001 in Taiwan after he successfully raised $75 million. Over a period of time Vita Genomics has developed expertise in using genomics and bioinformatics tools to offer streamlined and customized pharmacogenomics services and solutions. Currently, it has about 50 people conducting pharmacogenomics research, in vitro diagnosis product development, and specialty contract research services in both genomics and pharmacogenomics fields and about 70 people working for its subsidiary in Shanghai GeneCore Biotechnologies. About 18 have PhDs while the rest have Masters’ degree.
“We are focused on conducting research in the areas of pharmacogenomics and personalized medicine. It is an area developing very fast particularly in Chinese territory mainly because of increase in healthcare cost and health insurance,” says Dr Chen.
For Vita Genomics partnerships are vital to success and it has built up solid relationships with research institutions and medical organizations throughout Taiwan and China. “We entered into an agreement with Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute, to offer streamlined, customized and turnkey services for pharmacogenomics clinical trials to the global pharmaceutical and biotech community, says Dr Ellson Chen.
Since its inception, Vita Genomics has had its share of achievements and Dr Chen is quick to point them out. Vita Genomics had an important breakthrough in the research of hepatitis B and C treatment. “Using pharmacogenomic approaches, a proprietary DNA-based diagnostic technology was successfully developed to “fish out” those patients and carriers who are suitable for the current mono and combinational therapies using interferon drugs, Dr Chen says. What this means is the technology that makes treatment of hepatitis B and C better including increasing drug efficacy, lowering adverse reactions, avoiding waste of medical resources, and better patient compliance. It also brings the world one step closer to personalized medicine.
From the time it was established, Vita Genomics has published 70 papers and filed 17 patents of which five were awarded. It has also developed molecular diagnostic products related to pharmacogenetic test, disease risk assessment test, and cancer test. Besides risk assessment linked to genetic diseases and personalized medicine, Vita Genomics has also initiated a drug-repositioning program designed to resurrect drugs that have failed in the previous clinical trials owing to low efficacies or strong side effects. This program applies pharmacogenomics approaches using biomarkers to screen subsets of patients who may respond better or avoid adverse responses to the test drugs.
The company has developed six technology platforms such as high throughput screening, short tandem repeat genotyping, SNP genotyping, clinical genomics, functional genomics and bioinformatics. “Using these technologies we developed innovative and IP protected products that are moving through clinical trials and field testing,” Dr Chen says. “Some of our research is further developed into diagnostic or prognostic kits that are commercially available, namely, INFor—an invitro diagnostic test to predict efficacy of interferon /ribavirin combination therapy for chronic hepatitis C patients and SmaPhile, a molecular diagnostic kit used for the prediction of early onset asthma i.e., for patients aged between three and five years.”
Vita Genomics, now sitting on $30 million fund, has adopted three-pronged approach—pharmacogenomic CRO services, diagnostic products and medical solutions. It offers an advanced and targeted molecular diagnostic products and services, providing efficient and safer medical solutions, improving the drug development process, and lowering the overall healthcare cost through the pharmacogenomics approaches.
To market its diagnostic products it has started a marketing office in California. The business for its subsidiary, GeneCore is expanding very fast, so it’s looking at going public in China.
“Of the top 10 pharma companies, three are our customers for the pharmacogenomics CRO services. Through these services we generate about $4 million annually. We continue to enlist pharma partners who can benefit from identifying patients for drug responsiveness prior to treatments, partners who would fund expanded pharmacogenomics studies that will enable us to validate the responsiveness of all significant genotypes, and partners who would co-develop DNA-based molecular diagnostic products,” adds Dr Chen.
Vita Genomics continues to capitalize on the use of pharmacogenomics that promises to revolutionize the modern medicine by improving prevention and therapeutic efficiency.