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M2Gen's CEO Wants to Take Personalized Cancer Treatment to the Masses

After working more than 30 years in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries, mostly helping to develop anti-cancer drugs, Timothy R. Wright became the CEO of M2Gen last summer. He saw the job, he says, as an opportunity to become a major disruptor.

M2Gen, the Moffitt Cancer Center spinoff, has been building a database of cancer patients’ molecular and clinical data for more than a decade. The data are valuable because they can help pharmaceutical researchers develop drugs targeted to work with each patient’s genetics to best treat their specific cancer — a practice called “personalized medicine.”

Typically, such molecular and clinical patient information isn’t shared among cancer centers, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies, but M2Gen’s database — dubbed the Oncology Research Information Exchange Network (ORIEN) — is challenging that tradition. ORIEN gets data from 17 cancer centers across the country, including Moffitt. Pharmaceutical companies pay to subscribe to the network’s database.

Wright, who came to M2Gen in August from Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, intends to expand ORIEN’s reach. He spoke with Florida Trend about his plans.

  • The Goal: “We generate an enormous amount of very rich data, but we’re just scratching the surface. We have 17 centers now, but there are more than 50 comprehensive cancer centers in the United States. We’re going to continue to expand our relationship with those comprehensive care centers, and we’re going to extend the opportunity to be part of ORIEN to community hospitals. Why is that important? Probably 75% of all cancer patients are treated in community hospitals. By moving ORIEN into the community setting, we can make personalized medicine practical in the community. So someone who doesn’t have access to a Moffitt can still be treated with the same science that they would have had they been treated at Moffitt.

“That’s our responsibility as a company. The other part of my responsibilities is working with the pharmaceutical companies to sign them up so they subscribe to our database. That’s how we generate revenue.”

  • Growth: “We’ll probably double the size of our company over the next 12 months. Many of the types of jobs that we are focused on are data scientists. Probably 70% of our people are IT and data scientists.”
  • The Outlook: “There’s more hope built into cancer over the next 10 years than the last 50. We’re on the verge of something very disruptive in the area of cancer. I also think when you think about other diseases that are huge social issues — like Alzheimer’s — I think this particular approach has application there as well. M2Gen could be, down the road, leading the effort in moving from total cancer care to total health care, using the same underlying organizing principals that we’ve used so far.”

» Next page, Natural Born Killers, and Purifying Stem Cells.

Natural Born Killers
Nova Southeastern University, Davie

“Natural killer” cells are white-blood cells that play a role in rejecting tumors and cells infected by a virus. Scientists believe those killer cells can be trained to target specific tumor types. Using them would be less toxic than chemo and radiation and more selective. Researcher Richard Jove and the Nova Southeastern University Cell Therapy Institute, which he leads, work with Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet on pediatric sarcomas. An NSU team, led by Dr. H. Thomas Temple, saves the tissue, which is usually destroyed, to analyze and sequence the cells. NSU is creating a tumor library. — Mike Vogel

Purifying Stem Cells
Dr. Guenther Koehne / Miami Cancer Institute

Dr. Guenther Koehne left Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York to join Baptist Health South Florida’s Miami Cancer Institute as chief of bone marrow transplantation and hematologic oncology. The only Florida member of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Alliance, the institute gives patients access to many of the New York hospital’s clinical cancer treatment trials. Koehne’s primary directive is to develop a bone marrow transplantation program for treating cancers — in which doctors first destroy a cancer patient’s own bone marrow, then transplant stem cells from a donor to rebuild it.

The University of Miami also has a bone marrow transplantation program for treating cancer, but Miami Cancer Institute’s will use a different protocol, refined at Memorial Sloan Kettering. “We established a new approach to purify the stem cells from all the other cells,” he says. “You have what we call an enriched stem cell product.” That process reduces the side effects and eliminates the need for the recipient to take immunosuppressants. — Rochelle Broder-Singer


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