Duke University Medical Center and Craig Venter’s Center for Advancement of Genomics (CAG) are collaborating in an attempt to speed development of personalized healthcare based on individual genomic analysis.

Called the “genomic-prospective medicine collaboration,” the two centers plan to examine how to apply genomic technology clinically to improve health. The collaboration will explore ethical, legal, and medical issues in what Venter termed, “my long-term goal of enabling everyone to participate in the genomics revolution.”

Venter led private sector efforts to unravel the human genome at Cellera Genomics.

In a statement, the two Centers say, “The health care system in the U.S. is in need of a new paradigm to change this inflation rate (of healthcare costs). Genomics potentially provides an invigorating solution–lowering the cost of health care.” Venter says that lowering the cost of gene sequencing to $1,000 per individual genome is necessary to make genomics a viable tool in large-scale clinical research and medical care.

The two Centers say their goals focus initially on major disease areas such as cardiovascular, hematologic, infectious diseases, and cancer. They plan to sequence the DNA of Duke Medical Center’s clinical patient population and associate those genetic profiles with disease states and outcomes.

The final goal is to “create a futuristic personalized health plan and medical record including genomic information to predict health risks and therapy outcomes.”

In the Research Triangle, Gentris, which is based on research at Duke, is commercializing tests that analyze an individual’s genotype in regard to his ability to process drugs, and is developing other genomics-based tests. Gentris CEO Michael Murphy was traveling when we called, but we’ll let you know if he has any reaction when he returns.

Nipping at NC’s Heels

You sense a fair amount of satisfaction in the regional biotech community that the world at large recognizes North Carolina and the Research Triangle as an industry hotspot. The Brookings Institute Report ranked the RTP as one of nine major biotech clusters nationally last year. More recently, the Center for Entrepreneurial Development released a flood of statistics showing that the state is reaping substantial benefits from 20 years of promoting biotech.

But this week saw more evidence that other states want some of the action.

Michigan awarded $30 million in Life Science Corridor funds to a variety of researchers in the state. More than 50 life science companies opened their doors in Michigan over the last three years.

What other states such as Michigan are doing, however, reveals we’re not falling too far behind yet.

Sam Taylor, head of NC BIO, state arm of the powerful national industry lobbying organization, says that many of North Carolina’s would-be competitors are funding basic research, something NC has done for two decades. He also says some other regions are actually cutting back their commitments to biotech development.

That’s the case on both counts in Michigan, where the impressive $30 million grant is $15 million less than projected when the state unveiled its Life Science Corridor plan in 1999. The largest LSC grant went to Michigan’s Wayne State University, which is on the forefront of computer-aided surgery, and the bulk of the rest is going to individual researchers. A scant $1.5 million went to a seed-stage venture fund that plans to raise an additional $30 million.

Compare that to the $30 million the NC Golden Leaf Foundation awarded to BioVista, which has to raise $30 million on its own before it sees the first $20 million of Golden Leaf money. BioVista has an “understanding” with Golden Leaf that it will invest at least 70 percent of the money in North Carolina companies at the clinical trial stage of drug development.

BioVista’s Malcolm Kendall, previously with Intersouth Partners, Durham, has been highly visible working the recent CED conferences with his usual energy.

Michigan did include one very innovative idea in its grants. It created a $2 million emergency fund to help 2,000 laid off Pfizer scientists to start new business ventures.

Alveolus Gets FDA Go-ahead

Charlotte-based Alveolus Inc. received notice last week that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved its first product. The company makes a device to keep air passages open in lung cancer patients.

The device helps lung cancer patients breathe when tumors block air passages. Alveolus says it hopes to claim a piece of the $1 billion market for the devices, which are called “interventional pulmonary stents.” The lung exchanges blood gases at the aveolar sacs, or alveolus, hence the company name.

The six-person company was founded in 2001 with Eric Mangiardi as chief executive officer.