Case Study: ISB + Luxembourg

The Luxembourg partnership has validated the idea that international strategic partnerships can be enormously powerful tools for pushing big and complex science problems forward. – Dr. Lee Hood, ISB President & Co-Founder

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, a nation of about 500,000 citizens, sought to diversify its economy beyond banking and finance. The government, through joint efforts by the Ministry of the Economy and Foreign Trade; the Ministry for Culture, Higher Education and Research; and the Ministry of Health, decided to invest $200 million toward the creation of a bio research center of excellence. Luxembourg designated three partners – ISB, the Partnership for Personalized Medicine, and Translational Genomics Research Institute – as part of the Luxembourg Health Sciences and Technologies Action Plan, an effort to position the country as a bioscience hub in Europe.

ISB, which began work with Luxembourg in December 2008, was awarded $100 million over five years to help the University of Luxembourg to establish the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine, recruit leadership and faculty, train staff, and establish collaborative research projects.

Highlights from the ISB + Luxembourg partnership:

  • ISB-University of Luxembourg collaboration started in late 2008.
  • ISB helped establish the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB), which opened in September 2011, less than three years after the start of the partnership. LCSB has since become a globally recognized systems biology center.
  • ISB recruited LCSB director, Rudi Balling, and supported faculty recruitment. There are about 120 staff (as of 2013).
  • ISB has trained 11 senior scientists and postdocs at ISB, 4 of whom have returned to LCSB with expertise in systems biology, systems medicine, new technologies and analytical tools. This ensures the ISB model can be replicated in Luxembourg.
  • Established ISB-LCSB collaborations with EMBL, UCSD, Utah State, McLaughlin Research Institute, Gladstone, and others.
  • Built cross-institute collaborative programs in systems genetics, family genomics, P4 medicine, proteomics, and neurodegeneration.
  • ISB and LCSB have collaborated on scientific and medical projects, joint funding proposals, and numerous journal publications. ISB has published more than 125 articles in top-tier journals. LCSB has published 100 articles and 22 jointly with ISB.
  • Received 9 patents (LCSB).
  • Initiated connections with multiple U.S.-based companies for European operations.
  • ISB and LCSB co-founded Indi, which develops large-scale, blood-based molecular diagnostics company.

Research Milestones:

Indi

ISB worked with Indi in the development of a blood-based classifier for the identification of benign pulmonary nodules. Uncertainty in the diagnosis of pulmonary nodules identified by CT scans – the majority of which are benign – results in a significant number of unnecessary invasive procedures. This classifier has the potential to help millions of patients avoid unnecessary invasive procedures and save the healthcare system billions of dollars annually. It addresses a high unmet need for a non-invasive clinical test that can identify benign nodules with high probability.

Family of Four

In 2010, ISB published the first whole genome sequences of a human family of four. The project was funded through a partnership between ISB and the University of Luxembourg. Key breakthroughs of this work include demonstrating:

  • The genetic cause of Miller syndrome (a rare, heritable disease) and that there would no longer be an unknown cause for genetic diseases.
  • That whole genome sequencing was achievable, relevant and increasingly affordable.
  • The benefits of sequencing entire families, including lowering sequencing error rates, identifying rare genetic variants, and identifying disease-linked genes.
  • The significant role of genetic variations in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease.
Proteomics

The ISB-Luxembourg partnership has supported extensive proteomic research, resulting in the completion of the human proteome assay system, a fundamental pillar for determining the complete human proteome. As the completion of the human genome sequencing democratized the knowledge of all human genes, the human proteome assay system has democratized the identification of human proteins. We are just beginning to exploit the value of this information, but, as an example, many companies are already leveraging the results to identify and develop new diagnostic approaches.

In other proteomics work, ISB has applied its proteomics research in collaboration with LCSB to understand the microbial life system within waste water. Proteomics has enabled the identification of novel microbial enzymes key to energy production. We believe knowledge gained from this work will present a new energy source that can be derived from human waste. Organ-specific blood protein biomarkers

ISB is using a systems approach to identify blood protein biomarkers as diagnostics. As with the blood-based classifier for pulmonary nodules, these will provide minimally invasive, objective measurements of diseases, allowing early diagnosis, quantitative tracking of disease progression, and stratification of diseases into different subtypes to improve treatments.

ISB has preliminary results that identify approximately 10 blood biomarkers for post traumatic stress. The scientific approach could be used for a broad set of diseases, including many neuropsychiatric diseases, such as TBI, schizophrenia, bipolar disease and autism, that currently rely on subjective, imprecise diagnostic procedures.

ISB’s partnership with Luxembourg broke new ground and has laid the foundation for a more diversified economy; an accelerated pace of innovation; an expanded integration of biomedical research, education and commercial development; as well as improved healthcare outcomes for the Luxembourgian population.