September 9, 2010

Pharmacogenomics research at VUMC gets $18M boost

Pharmacogenomics research at VUMC gets $18M boost

Vanderbilt University Medical Center has received three major federal grants, totaling $18.2 million over five years, to support studies of pharmacogenomics — how genetic variation affects individual responses to medication.

The grants are part of a $161 million package awarded this month by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support 14 scientific research projects and seven network resources in the Pharmacogenomics Research Network.

Since it was established in 2000, the network has helped identify gene variants that affect drug responses in patients treated for cancer, arrhythmias, heart disease, asthma and other conditions.

“Thanks to breakthroughs in genome sequencing technologies and our growing understanding of genetic variation among individuals, there has never been a better time to propel the field of pharmacogenomics,” NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., said in a news release.

Dan Roden, M.D.

Dan Roden, M.D.

“Through these studies, we are moving closer to the goal of using genetic information to help prescribe the safest, most effective medicine for each patient,” Collins said.

One of the grants, from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, will enable Dan Roden, M.D., assistant vice chancellor for Personalized Medicine at Vanderbilt, to continue research begun more than a decade ago on the pharmacogenomics of drugs used to treat arrhythmias, abnormal heart rhythms.

The other two Vanderbilt grants are “resource development” awards from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) that are intended to benefit the entire network.

Marylyn Ritchie, Ph.D.

Marylyn Ritchie, Ph.D.

They include funding for a statistical analysis resource led by Marylyn Ritchie, Ph.D., who directs the Computational Genomics Core, and for an international biobank collaboration led by Roden, who directs BioVU, Vanderbilt's DNA databank.

Roden, the William Stokes Professor of Experimental Therapeutics, said he expects the partnership between BioVU and other biobanks in the United States and Japan will hasten the discovery of new genetic predictors of variable drug responses.

During the past 10 years, Roden and his colleagues have made major contributions to understanding the role that genetic variations play in atrial fibrillation, a common abnormal heart rhythm, and in drug-induced arrhythmias.

Continued progress in both areas depends upon the far-flung collaborations enabled by the Pharmacogenomics Research Network, said Roden, incoming chair of the network's steering committee.

“We have to be in a place where we can work with others who are developing all of the important tools, approaches and philosophies around pharmacogenomics,” he explained. “Focusing on a rare but serious adverse drug effect (that causes arrhythmia) put us in direct contact with other groups that are studying other rare, serious adverse drug effects. The mechanisms, the approaches, are very similar.”

“Team science is very important,” agreed Rochelle Long, Ph.D., program director for the Pharmacogenomics Research Network at NIH.

“To reach the point where you can apply personalized medicine, you need to understand the underlying genomic factors and why genetic information matters,” Long said. “Does it make a difference in the outcome for a patient? That's what personalized medicine is all about.

“This network is very strongly rooted in making (those) discoveries,” she continued. “I'm very pleased that Dan Roden is the chair … I think his leadership will contribute enormously as we try to marry basic science and clinical science, and figure out together how to push the envelope for pharmacogenomics.”

Other Vanderbilt faculty members involved in the grants include Dana Crawford, Ph.D., Dawood Darbar, M.D., Joshua Denny, M.D., Alfred George Jr., M.D., Prince Kannankeril, M.D., C. Michael Stein, M.B., Ch.B., Russell Wilke, M.D., Ph.D., and Hua Xu, Ph.D.