BOSTON—Thermo Fisher Scientific has opened its U.S. Precision Medicine Science Center (PMSC) in neighboring Cambridge, MA, with a focus on advancing the company’s precision medicine efforts with companies and medical centers.

Thermo Fisher says the new center will offer those partners access to advanced “omics” technologies and expertise to help them translate biomarker discoveries into new assays. The center is designed to help those partners develop analytical workflows that generate precise molecular profiles of patients, by linking partners with the company’s advanced technologies, which include genomic, proteomic, and metabolomic analysis.

In focusing on biomarker validation and development of companion diagnostics (CDx) tests, the center is expected to help Thermo Fisher expand the use of its Oncomine Dx Target Test beyond diagnosing cancer—including through CDx partnerships with oncology drug developers—into other indications, Thermo Fisher COO Mark Stevenson told GEN.

“In next-generation sequencing, we have really focused on oncology. In proteomics and metabolomics, we also see other therapeutic areas that are of tremendous interest, particularly why the proteome may be a target for a pharmaceutical company, or a drug. We see that in neurology and cardiology,” Stevenson said in an interview Tuesday at the 2018 Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) International Convention, held June 3–6 at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.

“The benefit that we have with Oncomine is that it’s already a well-established routine test. What we’d like to do is establish a protein-targeted test, so that you can then compare the results from the genomic test and the proteomic test. And that’s really a first,” Stevenson explained. “Today, most people talk about omics, but it’s quite separated. Here, we have a robust, validated Oncomine panel at the DNA level, and then we can correlate protein biomarkers.”

Applications envisioned for the center range from analyzing genomic data with next-generation sequencers to identifying proteins and metabolites using advanced mass spectrometry.

One Thermo Fisher technology the center will feature is Orbitrap mass spectrometers designed to deliver high-resolution, accurate-mass (HRAM) performance. A high-mass-range version of Orbitrap especially envisioned for biological proteomic applications was launched at the American Society for Mass Spectrometry’s 66th ASMS Conference on Mass Spectrometry and Allied Topics (ASMS 2018), held June 3–7 in San Diego.

Also being featured at the center is the Ion GeneStudio S5 System, a semiconductor-based next-generation sequencing (NGS) system intended to enable simple targeted sequencing workflows, running on the company’s Ion AmpliSeq On-Demand panels.

Developing Standard Protocols

“The center will be an early access for new technologies,” Stevenson said. “Some of what we develop needs basic physics and understanding of that—that we do in our own R&D lab. As it progresses, we need real biological samples. And those biological samples out of plasma, blood, that’s what we’ll get out of the collaboration center.”

He said the center’s staff of 10 to 20 professionals includes experts in biochemistry, mass spectrometry, molecular biology, and data science, who can assist Thermo Fisher partners as they develop standard protocols to accelerate development of clinical workflows.

Thermo Fisher is set to spend about $1 billion on R&D this year. The company has not disclosed the cost of the Cambridge center or any of its Cambridge-area partners, but did say Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles is collaborating with the precision medicine center team.

The center and Cedars-Sinai are partnering on a plasma proteomics workflow from sample preparation aimed at robustly quantifying hundreds of plasma proteins using mass spectrometry-based technology. The collaboration is intended to facilitate development of highly multiplexed mass spectrometry-based assays for targeted biomarkers, according to Thermo Fisher. The collaboration is headed by Cedars-Sinai’s Jennifer Van Eyk, Ph.D., director of basic science research in the Barbra Streisand Woman’s Heart Center, director of the Advanced Clinical Biosystems Research Institute, and Erika J. Glazer Chair in Women’s Heart Health.

Thermo Fisher’s precision medicine center in Cambridge is the company’s second in the world. The first opened in September 2017 in Guangzhou, China. That center focuses on biomarker discovery and cross-omics technology, as well as on workforce education and training.

The presence of the center in Guangzhou also reflects China’s elevation of precision medicine as one of several “strategic” industries being supported by the country’s 13th Five-Year Plan, covering 2016–2020, the state-owned China Daily reported at the time.

Stevenson said Thermo Fisher may open a third precision medicine center in Europe “probably in the next year or so,” but has no plans for any additional centers in the U.S.

Cambridge, he said, was an ideal location given its top-tier concentration of academic institutions and drug developers; Boston/Cambridge was ranked number-one among Top 10 U.S. Biopharma Clusters by GEN.

“We develop very advanced technologies, and there can sometimes be a gap to translate them into routine lab use. You need a lot of expertise. We need real-world samples to test,” Stevenson said. “This center bridges the technology provider, the innovator, which we are, with clinical samples, so that we can work together in a space and develop new methods and applications. That’s really what the environment creates, and Cambridge is ideal for that.”

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