International Genomics Consortium secures $59 million from NIH

October 12, 2010

By Flinn Foundation

The Phoenix-based International Genomics Consortium (IGC), one of Arizona’s most important assets in the biosciences, has secured a pair of major federal contracts–together worth nearly $59 million–to expand its role in The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) project. The endeavor, begun by the National Institutes of Health in 2006 with studies of lung, brain, and ovarian cancers, is now broadening to examine at least 20 types of cancer.

IGC’s role in the project centers on the collection and study of tissue samples. One of the contracts it has received, worth $21.4 million, will support development of a national tissue-collection network, through which samples of tumors and matched samples of normal tissue will beacquired from 18 hospitals around the country. The second contract, worth $37.5 million, will fund IGC’s management of TCGA’s principal tissue bank, known as a Biospecimen Core Resource (BCR).

As the BCR manager, IGC holds responsibilities that include adherence to regulations at each collection site, accuracy of diagnosis for each sample, collection of clinical information associated with each sample, and extraction and distribution of DNA and RNA for analysisby TCGA’s genomic characterization and sequencing centers.

The genomic analysis of samples by IGC’s partners in the project aims to comprehensively catalogue how cancerous tissue differs fromnormal tissue –a first step toward identifying potential targets for diagnostics and therapeutics. The data those analysis centers produce for each sample is matched with clinical-outcomes information–a record that may be supplemented on an ongoing, indefinite basis as patients’ cases continue. All of the genomic and clinical-outcomes information tied to each sample is freely accessible to researchers via an online data portal.

Robert Penny, IGC’s CEO and principal investigator on the contracts, said that the new contracts represent an affirmation of IGC’s tissue-banking expertise. As IGC demonstrated in the first phase of TCGA, its capacity to ensure standardized processing and comprehensive annotation of samples delivered a significant increase in the reliability of tests performed on IGC samples.

“When we did the pilot project, we discovered that having a central biorepository with stringent metrics to get in, and then high-quality protocols for processing, would allow you to have extremely concordant results between analyses by different companies,” Dr. Penny said.

IGC’s initial foray into tissue banking occurred in 2003, soon after it established headquarters in Arizona. The Expression Project for Oncology has to date collected more than 15,000 samples from some 4,000 cancer patients. As with TCGA, data tied to the samples is freely available to researcherslooking for new ways to diagnose and treat cancer.

The scope and potential impact of TCGA has inclined some researchers to compare it to the Human Genome Project.

“We must understand the cancer genome and we must understand it for all the common tumors,” said David Alberts, director of the University of Arizona’s Arizona Cancer Center, in the Arizona Republic. “If we don’t approach it in a global way, we will miss opportunities.”

Although IGC was chosen for one of the largest roles in TCGA–the only other biorepository contract announced by the National Cancer Institute was for $5.5 million–it is not the only Arizona institution participating in the project.

The Translational Genomics Research Institute, which shares a building with IGC on the downtown Phoenix Biomedical Campus, was one of the genomic-analysis centers for the first phase of the project. Scottsdale Healthcare is one of the hospitals providing samples to IGC, and IGC is working to make similar arrangements with Banner Health and St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix and University Medical Center in Tucson.

Altogether, the second phase of TCGA has a five-year budget of $275 million. Of that total, $175 million is an appropriation from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act; the National Cancer Institute and the National Human Genome Research Institute are each contributing another $50 million.

For more information:

IGC to Continue as Founding BCR and Serve as Tissue Source Site Network for The Cancer Genome Atlas Project,” IGC news release, 10/07/2010

Phoenix lab lands key role in cancer-gene mapping,” Arizona Republic, 09/29/2010