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Pitt Cancer Researcher Takes Helm of Renamed Institute for Precision Medicine

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Cynthia Patton

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Renowned breast cancer researcher Adrian Lee, Ph.D., has been named director of the Institute for Precision Medicine (IPM), a joint effort by UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh to move biomedical research into personalized well-being and clinical care.

Dr. Lee, a professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Chemical Biology at Pitt, and director of the Women’s Cancer Research Center, University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, noted that the over-arching goal of the IPM is to help researchers and clinicians discover features about an individual’s risk of disease, select best treatments, predict most likely response, and move these insights into clinical practice. “Our approach is aimed at answering the most important question about precision medicine—that is, under what circumstances do these insights lead to better patient outcomes and reduced health care costs?” he said.

In addition to studying the hormonal regulation of breast cancer, Dr. Lee is part of the team working to implement the technology infrastructure needed for precision medicine. He succeeds Associate Vice Chancellor Jeremy Berg, Ph.D., who will remain as a senior adviser to the IPM, founded in 2013 and formerly known as the Institute for Personalized Medicine.

Under Dr. Lee, the IPM will build on a host of precision medicine efforts already underway at Pitt and UPMC, including implementation of new clinical trials and procurement of significant National Institutes of Health (NIH) and state funding.

In July, the NIH announced an award, led by Pitt’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute, that could top $46 million over five years to build the infrastructure and partnerships needed to launch the Cohort Program of President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative—a landmark effort to engage more than 1 million U.S. participants in providing clinical, genomic and other data that could lead to new ways of preventing and treating disease.

An example of the early progress in precision medicine at Pitt and UPMC is screening certain cardiac patients to see if they have a gene variant that makes them less likely to respond to a blood-thinning medication commonly prescribed after a stent implant. The aim is to use the pharmacogenomic test results to reduce a patient’s chances of recurrent clots and returning to the hospital.

“Pitt and UPMC are in a unique position to capitalize upon the research and clinical expertise in Pittsburgh and to lead the nation in precision medicine,” said Arthur S. Levine, M.D., Pitt’s senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and John and Gertrude Petersen Dean of the School of Medicine. “Under Adrian’s leadership, the IPM will help to ensure the continued development of innovative research programs, efforts to reduce administrative and regulatory barriers, and the education of physicians in the area of personalized medicine.”

Potential IPM initiatives over the next five years include:

  • Building upon current Pitt and UPMC efforts to share clinical, tissue and genomic data, enabling researchers to perform precision medicine research. The IPM also will seek out new ventures with companies and other academic centers to expand data sharing nationally.
  • Positioning Pitt and UPMC for future federal and commercial precision medicine efforts. The IPM will work with the Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance —backed by UPMC, Pitt and Carnegie Mellon University—and UPMC Enterprises, the commercialization arm of UPMC, to coordinate and help fund precision medicine research.
  • Leveraging clinical data and tissue collections at Pitt and UPMC. For instance, large-scale machine learning will be used on more than 288,000 unique cases in the UPMC Cancer Registry to identify predictors of disease prognosis and outcomes.
  • Developing education programs and policy in precision medicine, including expansion of the role of genetic counselors.
  • Facilitating the testing of precision medicine in clinical trials. This work will be integrated with studies of patient-reported outcomes and health costs to help develop new models of care.