Xconomist of the Week: Five Questions for New York Life Sciences 2031 Panelist Eric Schadt

10/6/11Follow @arleneweintraub

Eric Schadt’s career as a scientist has been focused on unlocking genetic cues to common human diseases such as diabetes and obesity. He is the chief scientific officer of Pacific Biosciences, a Menlo Park, CA, company that develops gene-sequencing technologies. He recently joined Mount Sinai Medical Center as the director of the Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology—a wide-ranging effort to create disease models based on genetic data collected at Mount Sinai and other institutions.

On October 13, Schadt will lend his genomics and entrepreneurial expertise to Xconomy’s first public New York event: Life Sciences 2031. We’re excited about our diverse panel—which also includes Pfizer’s Barbara Dalton, Kadmon’s Sam Waksal, and OrbiMed’s Sam Isaly. We asked Schadt about his new role at Mount Sinai, as well as his views on personalized medicine, genomic research, and the future of life sciences in the Big Apple. Here’s an edited version of our e-mail exchange with Schadt.

Xconomy: What are your main priorities as the director of the Mount Sinai Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology?
Eric Schadt: The short-term priorities are to get the institute going, which involves very intense planning, recruiting, and infrastructure-building. The mission of the institute is to become the main data-interpretation hub at Mount Sinai, collaborating deeply with 12 disease-oriented institutes so that we can better understand how to diagnose and treat disease. To pull this off we need a multidisciplinary team, comprised of computer engineers and scientists, data modelers to build predictive models, data analysts to recognize patterns, and biological data miners and experimentalists to generate and validate hypotheses about common human diseases and drug response.

X: How is PacBio contributing to this effort?
ES: The partnership between PacBio and Mount Sinai relates to the development and applications of the single molecule real time (SMRT) sequencing technology to enable better diagnosis and treatment of disease. While Mount Sinai will use many different types of technologies, including next generation DNA sequencing technologies, there are a number of advantages SMRT sequencing provides in comprehensively characterizing genomic variation. For example, we have demonstrated a fast turnaround time, which can enable very rapid characterization of pathogens during active outbreaks.

X: Many of the panelists speaking at our Oct. 13 event, New York Life Sciences 2031, are big believers in the future of personalized medicine, but they say the regulatory uncertainties may impede its growth. Do you agree?
ES: I absolutely agree. I am already experiencing this in an amplified way in New York, which has very extensive regulatory rules on carrying out any kind of test, even in a hospital setting. I believe [personalized medicine] goes well beyond the development of companion diagnostics. It includes, for example, having the abilityto have your own genome sequenced and interpreted in the context of what is currently known, and then getting it updated as knowledge increases at an exponential pace. The ability to leverage the information as it exists today to inform your personal health, or that of your family, is non-trivial.

Whether you’re learning about mutations you have in drug-metabolizing enzymes that can influence response to treatment with that drug, or you’re finding that you have hard-hitting mutations in genes that may help explain your own personal health or family conditions, we should not have regulatory agencies standing in the way. Allowing patients to be the biggest advocates of their own personal health has the potential to not only enable disease research, but also to lower the overall cost of healthcare. I think the regulatory agencies need to take one gigantic step back from all of this and figure out how to revamp themselves to be an enabling force in this revolution.

X: One goal of this event will be to look 20 years into the future and make predictions about where New York will be as a center of biotech. The city is considered a laggard behind places like San Francisco and Boston. What do you think NYC needs to do to boost its stature in biotech?
ES: I think we are beginning to see transformations already in NYC regarding biotech, as the city comes to appreciate that it is home to eight amazing medical centers, top-tier universities, and a very large population that stands to benefit from all of the progress in the life and biomedical sciences. I think Mount Sinai is a good example of an institution pushing hard to transform its research programs to better use all of the cutting-edge technologies, high-performance computing, and information sciences to get at truly predictive models of disease.

We have also seen a number of institutions come together in NYC to create the New York Genome Center, which aims to build out a high throughput genomics center focused not only on very large-scale data generation, but also on interpretation of that data. I have felt tremendous energy in the city to transform it into a major player in the biotechnology world.

X: This panel will include a mix of entrepreneurs (Sam Waksal and you), VC-types (Barbara Dalton) and portfolio managers (Sam Isaly and moderator Les Funtleyder of Miller Tabak). What topics do you hope this mix of expertise will bring to the forefront? Anything burning in your mind that you’d like to discuss with them all?
ES: I’m wondering why you don’t see VCs out aggressively educating scientists in academia on how they can translate their research into startup companies so they have a more direct impact on diagnosing and treating disease? That’s something that happens more seamlessly in VC-savvy regions. I think if NYC could create a more vibrant VC community focused on investing in all of the research that comes out of the city to create startups, it would be an amazing revolution for the city. I know Mayor Bloomberg has a specific commission focused on these types of problems. Again, I see a city mobilizing to catch this big wave, so that NYC can play a leading role in translating discoveries in academia into treatments for patients in its many hospitals.

Come hear more about what Eric Schadt and other local biotech leaders have to say on October 13 at Xconomy Forum: New York Life Sciences 2031. Register here.

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