Northwell takes cancer research to the biobank

Hard cell: Principals on all sides are talking up the new cancer-focused partnership between Northwell Health and German R&D firm Indivumed.

A collaboration between New York’s largest healthcare system and a German oncology-research expert will look to customize cancer care to individual patient needs.

New Hyde Park-based Northwell Health on Tuesday announced a new partnership with Indivumed GmbH, an International Organization for Standardization-certified R&D company based in Hamburg. The collaboration will focus on cancer-tissue “biospecimens” in an attempt to better understand cancer genetics – and ultimately create “individualized diagnostics and therapeutics,” Northwell said in a statement.

Indivumed maintains a leading international Cancer Database and Biobank that stores RNA, DNA and proteins as they exist in the human body. With more than 4.5 million “biological data points” based on 600,000-plus unique tumor, blood and urine samples – collected from a global assortment of 25,000 cancer patients – the biobank facilitates such cutting-edge research as whole genome gene-expression analysis (critical to disease classification and determining a cancer’s specific pathways) and other next-level bioinformatics.

David Tuveson: Big step in the right direction.

With the New York-based health system treating roughly 19,000 new cancer patients each year, the new collaboration will look to “greatly expand cancer biobanking activities within Northwell Health,” a major step toward the development of new drug therapies and “personalized medicine approaches,” according to Northwell.

Under an initial three-year agreement, oncologists at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park and Manhattan’s Lenox Hill Hospital will collect lung, breast, colorectal, pancreatic and other cancer tissues for research and storage. Other Northwell Health hospitals are scheduled to join in as the program evolves.

Patients will be given the opportunity to allow extra cancerous tissue removed “in the normal course of their treatment” to be stored in Indivumed’s biobank for potential research purposes, Northwell Health said.

Describing Indivumed as a “world leader in tissue collection and preservation,” Northwell Health Senior Vice President James Crawford said the collaboration is “important and several fronts” and will ultimately “drive meaningful innovation within our health system.”

“Creating a system-wide approach to biobanking of human cancer tissues expands our ability to conduct metabolic, as well as gene-based, cancer treatment research,” noted Crawford, Northwell Health’s executive director of laboratory services and chairman of laboratory medicine at the Northwell Health School of Medicine.

“It will also facilitate patients being able to participate in and potentially benefit from cutting-edge clinical research without disrupting their routine treatment,” the senior VP added. “We’ll be helping to build a critical mass of biological samples and clinical data for use in unique research and clinical trials.”

The international collaboration also enhances the strategic affiliation between Northwell Health and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, established in 2015 specifically to accelerate cancer research and therapeutic development. David Tuveson, who in November succeeded Bruce Stillman as director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Cancer Center, called the Northwell/Indivumed partnership “an exciting step forward.”

“The collaboration will provide strong support for the close partnership between Northwell Health and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory,” Tuveson said in a statement.

The individual strength of both the health system and the world-renowned laboratory are both appealing to Indivumed, according to founder and CEO Hartmut Juhl, who noted Northwell Health’s “special blend” – a strong clinical-trial program within New York’s largest hospital system – and called CSHL “a clear research leader in this field.”

“Attaining individualized cancer diagnosis and treatment for every patient based on reliable clinical data and molecularly intact biospecimens is our goal,” Juhl said. “Our tool for achieving this goal is the establishment of a unique global cancer database using molecular information from tissues collected under stringent protocols.

“By building this new biobank together (with Northwell Health), we can make a dramatic difference in genetic-based precision medicine.”

The Northwell Health partnership is not Indivumed’s first foray into U.S. medicine. In August, the German firm announced a collaboration with the nonprofit Pacific Northwest Research Institute focused on bioinformatics and computational biology.

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