SFAz awards $2.2M to C-Path for collaboration on biosignature standards

November 1, 2010

By hammersmith

Science Foundation Arizona (SFAz), bolstered by federal stimulus appropriations, has awarded $2.2 million to the Tucson-based Critical Path Institute (C-Path) to create the Arizona Biosignature Laboratory, which aims to develop Food and Drug Administration-endorsed methods for testing tissue samples for numerous diseases.

The first of several demonstration projects by the C-Path lab, which will be housed at the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, will seek to establish an assay, or testing method, for identifying the multiple essential characteristics, or biomarkers, of a type of lung-cancer tumor known as ALK (anaplastic lymphoma kinase) positive. Together, those characteristics constitute a biosignature.

“Biosignatures hold the key to understanding diseases and how best to facilitate their effective diagnosis and treatment,” said Ray Woosley, C-Path’s president and CEO, in the Arizona Daily Star.

Indicating the complexity of the project, it involves collaborative research by several institutions besides C-Path and Biodesign:

  • Tumor samples for the project will be provided by the Phoenix-based International Genomics Consortium;
  • funding to match the SFAz grant will be provided by Oro Valley’s Ventana Medical Systems Inc., which will help C-Path develop the standards;
  • additional research will be accomplished by the University of Arizona’s Arizona Cancer Center and Health Sciences Center, and the Phoenix-based Translational Genomics Research Institute.

If the project succeeds, it would offer researchers around the world a lifeline as they develop diagnostics: Follow this approved approach in designing your new tool, and you greatly increase the chance that regulators will affirm that you are measuring what you say you are measuring.

Currently, there is great variability between the testing methods at one research lab and the next, said Dr. Woosley.

“It may work great in a Harvard lab, but what happens if you try it in a local cancer lab?” he said in the Arizona Republic. “We need to measure the same way so we are talking apples to apples.”

In the long run, introducing greater predictability and reliability in the drug- and diagnostic-development process should yield lower costs and greater safety; worthwhile lines of research would not be abandoned because of inconsistent testing methods, and ineffective or dangerous treatments would not be passed along in error into the clinical setting.

Additional demonstration projects that the Arizona Biosignature Laboratory intends to perform will develop standardized testing methods related to biomarkers for kidney disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and tuberculosis.

SFAz’s grant to C-Path is one of several provided from federal stimulus funding that was directed to SFAz by Gov. Jan Brewer. Altogether, SFAz has received $10 million from the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, which is distributed at the governor’s discretion. That fund is also supporting a $3.1 million expansion of SFAz’s Graduate Research Fellowship program and its Engineering Pathways program for rural community colleges, and the $2 million Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation.

For more information:

C-Path awarded $2.2M in stimulus funds,” Arizona Daily Star, 10/29/2010

Valley lab aims to standardize tissue testing,” Arizona Republic, 10/28/2010

Governor Jan Brewer Dedicates Funding to Advance Research into Major Diseases,” Office of the Governor news release, 10/28/2010