by Howard Johnson
Interview with Dr. Robert Darnell, MD, PhD, President and Scientific Director, New York Genome Center
I recently had the opportunity to tour Bob Darnell’s laboratory at Rockefeller University. Dr. Darnell is a leading expert in RNA genomics. His career in research and medicine has spanned more than 25 years and includes his current roles as the Heilbrunn Professor and Senior Physician at The Rockefeller University and as a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator. In addition to his position at Rockefeller, Dr. Darnell is an Adjunct Attending Physician at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. He is an alumnus of Columbia College and received his medical and neurology training at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine and the Weill Cornell Medical College.
In November 2012, Bob took the helm of the New York Genome Center (“NYGC”). He has been involved with the growth and advancement of NYGC since its inception in 2010, as a member of the original group of New York scientists that helped to shape the Center’s early direction.
NYGC is an independent, non-profit genomics and bioinformatics institution located in Manhattan. Founded with the support of 12 of the area’s most prestigious research and healthcare institutions, NYGC’s unique collaborative model is already accelerating the potential for genomics research to transform clinical care in New York and beyond.
This model unites a diverse group of hospitals, research centers, technology companies, pharmaceutical companies, cultural institutions, and philanthropists who share a common goal of advancing biological research for the purpose of improving human health.
I asked Bob to answer a few questions of potential importance to NYC bioscience entrepreneurs.
1. Why do you think genomics will “crack the code” for the innovation economy?
First, there are tremendous pressures to innovate healthcare right now. Rising patient care costs, a rapidly aging population with more expensive treatment needs, reimbursement challenges, costs for development and paying for medicine, to name a few. Genomics will play an increasingly important role in helping address the above concerns through faster and more efficient development of targeted diagnostics and medicines tailored to individuals.
One good example includes the sequencing of gene variants encoding individuals metabolic enzymes (P450 liver enzymes) that will help determine dose and potential toxicity to drugs—so called pharmacogenomics. Consider warfarin, a drug taken by millions of people each day, where currently each person has a dose individualized by trial and error to be titrated to just the point where their ability to make blood clots is reduced, but not excessively so. Understanding an individual’s metabolism by sequencing offers reduction of risk and increase drug effect for each person. Other great illustrations are coming from the world of cancer…each individual patient’s tumor of one type—breast cancer, for example—turns out to be different, despite the same tumor label. Sequencing each patient’s tumor reveals what mutations are present in that patient that are most amenable to treatment with pharmaceutical drugs.
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