Cambridge Healthtech Institute’s Ann Nguyen recently interviewed Tim Harris of SV Life Sciences. Dr. Harris shares his featured presentation on “Precision Medicine” at the Clinical Genomics conference taking place April 5-7, 2016 as part of the 15th Annual Bio-IT World Conference & Expo in Boston, MA.
Informatics, Genomic Variation and Clinical Impact
Q1: What scientific problems have driven you across your varied research experiences, from molecular biologist to pharma company leader to SAIC-Frederick CTO to Precision Medicine SVP at Biogen? Any common threads or persistent issues?
One common thread is the persistence of the technology driving the science. You have to be up to date with the best ways of doing things, whether it be DNA sequencing, Mass Spectrometry or the analysis of data from those experiments.
Q2: Your featured presentation “Precision Medicine” on April 6 will describe how genome-wide association studies can help tie genome variants to certain clinical phenotypes. What are the broader implications you’d like the audience to absorb?
The basic message is that “Genetics Never Lies,” whether it is information derived from association of common alleles with disease or rare mutations. Genetics always tell you something that is true if interpreted properly statistically. But do not expect that genetics will provide you with all the answers. It is just a great starting point.
Q3: In what ways might IT and informatics continue to enhance the utility of genomic findings in patient care? What progress do you foresee in the next decade?
The biggest issue is what variation over the whole genome really means. It is all very well looking at the protein coding regions, which we understand reasonably well, but there is not much understanding of what variation across the rest of the genome means biologically. That is the next 10 years project and will be heavily dependent on informatics and data integration.
Q4: What obstacles must still be overcome to maximize genomic research’s value in clinical settings?
I think we still have a way to go to educate the clinical community about the importance of genetics and genomics in their world. Doing clinical trials of patients that are selected based on a combination of phenotype and genotype is here and now and that means that in the clinic, physicians will have to get used to profiling tools to select the therapy a particular patient takes. Precision medicine is leading the way in oncology but it is relevant for all of clinical medicine.
Tim Harris, Ph.D., D.Sc., Venture Partner, SV Life Sciences
Dr. Tim Harris is a science and business leader with over 35 years of experience guiding and leading laboratory work and scientists in a range of research areas. He is a molecular biologist and biochemist, and is now working as a Venture Partner at SV Life Sciences. He was until March 2016, SVP of Precision Medicine at Biogen. Until 2011, he was the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and Director of the Advanced Technology Program (ATP) at SAIC-Frederick, Inc. in Maryland, which operates the National Cancer Institute's leading center for cancer and AIDS research (now Frederick National Laboratory operated by Leidos Inc.). He has served as President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Novasite Pharmaceuticals, and he founded SGX Pharmaceuticals in 1999 (formerly Structural Genomix), where he built the company to more than 130 employees, raised $85M in capital, and generated more than $20M in revenue during six years as CEO before it was sold to Eli Lilly. Before founding SGX, Dr. Harris was Senior Vice President, Research and Development at Sequana/Axys. He began his career working on animal viruses such as that causing foot and mouth disease and was one of the first molecular biologists at Celltech (now UCB Pharma) in the United Kingdom. He subsequently spent five years at Glaxo Group Research as Director of Biotechnology from 1989 to 1993. He is currently on the Board of Directors of Opgen (Nasdaq: OPGN) and is an observer on the Board of SMS-IC in Scotland.
To learn more about Dr. Harris’s featured presentation during the Clinical Genomics conference, visit Bio-ITWorldExpo.com/Clinical-Omics.