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Two ways about it
July 2013
by Jeffrey Bouley  |  Email the author
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HILDEN, Germany—At the end of May, QIAGEN NV let the world know it got a boost to its pipeline of promising new biomarkers when it announced two new agreements, one with Columbia University and the other with the British Columbia Cancer Agency. Together they bring promising new biomarkers involving glioblastoma, lymphoma and other cancers to QIAGEN's expanding portfolio of potential companion diagnostic (CDx) products.  
 
For the glioblastoma part of things, QIAGEN entered into an exclusive worldwide licensing option on FGFR-TACC fusion genes with Columbia University in New York. QIAGEN notes that it intends to develop this biomarker into a diagnostic test for routine use in diagnostic workups, which may enable doctors to identify glioblastoma patients who could benefit from targeted treatments now under development. Fusions between members of the FGFR and TACC gene families also have been identified recently as present in several other malignancies, including bladder cancers.  
 
On the more lymphoma- oriented side of the equation is an exclusive license option with the British Columbia Cancer Agency, based in Vancouver, for the EZH2 Y641 mutation biomarker that could serve as a CDx test for routine selection of patients who could benefit from EZH2 targeted therapies that are currently under development by major pharmaceutical companies.
 
"While we know EZH2 is involved in certain types of breast and prostate cancer, it has never before been found mutated in any cancer and was not previously implicated in having a role in lymphomas," said Dr. Joseph Connors of the British Columbia Cancer Agency in 2010 when the agency announced its findings about EZH2. "The presence of this mutation can be considered a marker that will aid in diagnosing these lymphomas and identifying new therapies for their treatment."  
 
Noting that expanding its portfolio of biomarkers for the development of innovative CDx options is a key focus of his company and that personalized healthcare is "driving the growth of QIAGEN as molecular information plays an increasingly important role in improving outcomes for patients," QIAGEN CEO Peer M. Schatz has noted that "QIAGEN's expertise and solutions spanning the continuum from research to commercialization is driving significant value in personalized healthcare, a rapidly growing franchise with $100 million of annual sales. Deep relationships with leading academic centers provide a rich source of biomarkers, as in these latest two agreements. In partnership with top pharmaceutical companies, we are translating genomic discoveries into standardized companion diagnostics to guide the use of targeted drugs."
QIAGEN reached out to the British Columbia Cancer Agency in January 2012 initially, recalls James Schlosser, the agency's business development and contracts officer, and he also tells DDNEWS that the agency and QIAGEN have had previous dealings.  
 
"A deal like this gives us the ability to not only come back to the clinic and aid and abet ourselves and our own ability to design technologies and processes, but also to reach out, go out and help other centers like ours do better," adds Dr. Sam Abraham, vice president of research at the British Columbia Cancer Agency's Research Centre. "We've done deals like this several times in the past, because it is part of our mandate to get financing and development from outside to help us better use our ideas and develop them into products that can be used clinically."  
 
Likewise, QIAGEN approached Columbia University, notes Peter Golikov, senior technology licensing officer at Columbia Technology Ventures, who says the company approached one of the university's inventors/researchers "shortly after the story on the significance of FGFR-TACC mutations came out in Science on Sept. 7," describing how the mutation occurs in a sub-population in brain cancer patients and how mechanistically, the mutation leads to a transformed cancer cell. 
 
"Brain cancer has a significant mortality rate even with the conventional treatments that include surgical resection, radiation and drug therapies approved by the FDA," Golikov tells DDNEWS. "The identification of a specific treatment for this mutation introduces the idea of using personalized medicine to specifically target a causal mutation in the tumor cells and hopefully reduce mortality. The timing of the agreement to  develop the diagnostic is related to both the recent discovery and the current development efforts by several companies. The clinical development effort in the pharmaceutical industry drives the need for a companion diagnostic."  
 

 
QIAGEN and China's BioBAY open translational medicine center to accelerate CDx
 
SUZHOU, China—QIAGEN NV also announced last month, along with SIP Biotech Development Co. Ltd. (BioBAY), the opening of QIAGEN (Suzhou) Translational Medicine Center, a translational medicine company that aims to accelerate the discovery and validation of biomarkers and to create companion diagnostics for the Chinese market. QIAGEN (Suzhou) is a joint venture of QIAGEN and BioBAY, the innovative life-science cluster in Suzhou Industrial Park near Shanghai. The companies announced the launch of QIAGEN (Suzhou) on the BioBAY campus, which currently hosts more than 330 companies and research groups.
 
QIAGEN (Suzhou) will provide services and consulting with state-of-the-art QIAGEN molecular technologies for international and Chinese pharmaceutical companies, as well as research institutes to enable translational medicine, the multidisciplinary process of advancing discoveries from laboratory bench to the patient's bedside. The center will work with partners located at BioBAY and elsewhere in China to provide fully integrated biomarker solutions to accelerate drug development, as well as to commercialize companion diagnostics. The four key service sections include biobanking, pharmacogenetics, next-generation sequencing and pharmacogenomics. QIAGEN (Suzhou) is expected to grow to about 50 employees within three years.
 
"We are delighted to join with BioBAY, a strategically positioned biotechnology partner, in the mission of creating novel molecular diagnostics to meet pressing medical needs for patients. QIAGEN continues to expand our relationships in China, one of our most important countries in sales and a key growth market for us," said Dr. Victor Shi, president of QIAGEN Asia Pacific, in a statement. "Partnering with BioBAY expands our commitment to translational research in biomarkers and companion diagnostics for China and other markets. Pharma and biotech companies in China's dynamic market face special needs that we can address through this unique translational medicine collaboration, helping to accelerate the development of companion diagnostics. Personalized healthcare matches important new drugs with the right patients and creates better treatment benefits."
 
Code: E071308

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