Lee Hartwell, at 70, Tackles Personalized Medicine, Education in Latest Career Phase

9/20/10Follow @xconomy

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attracted Hartwell to move to Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ, he says. But it’s about more than just one big donation, he says. Arizona is also home to an important collaborator, the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) in Phoenix. Arizona State also has strong departments in global sustainability, and science education, Hartwell says. He will continue to collaborate on his personalized medicine work with a number of key faculty at the Hutch in Seattle. And while Hartwell and his wife, Theresa Naujack, have found a new home in Arizona during the academic year, they still plan to spend their summers in Seattle, close to the faculty they will be working closely with at the Hutch, Hartwell says.

Much of Hartwell’s time is being spent traveling the world in a quest to garner support for this systematic research for personalized medicine. Shortly after our interview, Hartwell said he was getting on a plane to travel to Taiwan, where the government has expressed signs of support. He’s been spending time meeting with government officials in China, India, Singapore, Canada, and Luxembourg. The common thread is that they have interest in containing healthcare costs, and in potentially supporting research into diagnostics that catch health problems early, before the costs get impossibly steep.

The diagnostics industry isn’t really part of the equation just yet. The business model for diagnostics in the U.S., given the many years and the millions of dollars required for clinical trials, combined with the low prices charged for today’s tests, Hartwell says. Most companies today are forced to focus on a single, specific marker which might provide a faster and more realistic path to the marketplace, but doesn’t provide the full set of information doctors need, he says. So this is an effort that will have to spend many years in the nonprofit sector, backed by governments and philanthropists, before venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and big diagnostic companies can get serious about implementing the new tools in a broad commercial strategy.

“We need to go a lot further in the nonprofit sector until we get a very well defined panel of markers that we know is providing us information around a very specific clinical question,” Hartwell says. “Once we get to that point, then it’s appropriate to hand it off to the commercial sector. I don’t know whether that handoff will be around the identity of the biomarker panel or whether it will be around the platform or device that makes the measurement. I see the commercial sector developing the devices and platforms.”

The research initiative isn’t really about creating a brand new institute, like the name Biodesign Institute suggests, but it will be a collaboration of faculty with different forms of … Next Page »

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