Providence and Institute for Systems Biology team up

May 1, 2016


A new affiliation between Providence Health & Services and the Institute for Systems Biology aims to bring personalized medicine to patients, with a focus on keeping them well and identifying the earliest opportunities to reverse or prevent disease. Personalized medicine uses an individual's genetic profile to guide decisions related to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease.

At the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, senior research scientists Sheila Reynolds, left, and Vesteinn Thorsson discuss clusters of data from The Cancer Genome Atlas project. The project has helped researchers better understand the molecular signatures of dozens of types of cancer. This information holds promise to help determine the best course for cancer treatment and prevention.

The Renton, Wash.-based nonprofit Catholic health care system and the Seattle-based nonprofit biomedical research organization announced their new affiliation on March 14. Dr. Leroy "Lee" Hood, a National Medal of Science recipient for his contributions to biology and medicine, will continue as the president of the Institute for Systems Biology. He also became the senior vice president and chief science officer for the five-state Providence Health & Services as part of the affiliation.

"The affiliation is a life's dream come true," said Hood, 77. That's because the affiliation will allow for the expansion of personalized medicine to impact the lives of patients served by Providence. Hood added that he has worked for 50 years to understand disease and improve health care. "It's an ideal marriage between a new approach to medicine and health care with an institution that has a long and really attractive record in delivering health care."


Dr. Rod Hochman, president and chief executive of Providence, said, "We're trying to bring science closer to the bedside for all of our patients, whether they're in Anchorage, Alaska, Los Angeles or Missoula."

Under the affiliation, the Institute for Systems Biology will remain a separate legal entity. It will retain its name and identity. It will set its own research agenda and retain its own board of directors, said Hochman and Hood. They did not release financial terms related to the affiliation.

Promoting 'P4 medicine'
The Institute for Systems Biology is researching what Hood calls "P4 medicine" — medicine that is "predictive, preventive, personalized and participatory." The institute's focus involves work to quantify scientific wellness and identify the earliest markers of transition for common diseases. The Institute for Systems Biology explained that data points from individual patients will be used to create a catalog of de-identified information. Over time, it will show the earliest transitions from wellness to disease, even before individuals exhibit symptoms. By better understanding disease mechanisms, Institute for Systems Biology researchers and Providence clinical researchers will advance their work on diagnostic and therapeutic tools to prevent or combat disease.

The two organizations will establish joint research projects using detailed data clouds in four initial areas: understanding early transitions from wellness to disease; longitudinal analysis of patients at risk for Alzheimer's disease; assisting breast cancer patients to recover from illness after debilitating therapies and working on treatments for glioblastoma, a type of brain tumor.

The two organizations selected focus areas that affect many people and/or are particularly debilitating; they're areas in need of additional research and therapies; because the organizations had foundational expertise in them; and because they were viewed as areas where researchers and doctors might be able to assist patients in the next few years.


The research projects will be funded through grants, donations from individuals and foundations, corporations — such as pharmaceutical companies — and with funds from Providence. Both Providence and the Institute for Systems Biology plan to commercialize tools and technologies to advance personalized medicine.

Hochman said part of Hood's work as Providence's chief science officer will be to help Providence Ventures, a fund that invests in innovative health care companies, to determine what tools and technologies should be financially supported for their innovation and ability to help patients.

Map to wellness
The Institute for Systems Biology, co-founded in 2000 by Hood, immunologist Alan Aderem and protein chemist Ruedi Aebersold, has spun off eight companies. Hood described how the institute's work leads to real-life wellness. For instance, one company, Arivale, generates dense, personalized data clouds that include multiple measurements over time. The company mines the data to determine how to optimize the wellness of each individual. So far, more than 1,000 people have been analyzed, and Hood said the business is expected to grow enormously.

He said the findings of the affiliation between Providence and the Institute for Systems Biology would lead to real-world approaches to advance wellness. The institute does basic research. Together, the institute and Providence will collaborate on translational medicine initiatives. For instance, research to better understand post-cancer treatment might, in time, result in a new cancer survivorship wellness program.

Hochman said breakthroughs will benefit patients. "We want to bring science to everyone. Particularly for us in Catholic health care, we want to make sure the most poor and vulnerable populations have access to the same cutting-edge science that other groups do."

Institute for Systems Biology postdoctoral fellow Martin Shelton analyzes samples related to cancer research in Dr. Leroy Hood’s lab at the Seattle institute. The institute affiliated with Providence Health & Services in March.

The affiliation is through the nonprofit Western HealthConnect. The affiliation allows Providence, a Catholic system, to work with secular organizations that remain secular. The affiliation model has been used for Providence's affiliations with Swedish Health Services and other nonreligious organizations. The Institute for Systems Biology and Providence said the institute does not deliver patient care, and its research does not conflict with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.

The affiliation also will lead to a considerable expansion in the number of scientists employed by the institute. The institute in March had nine group leaders, scientists who direct their own programs, as well as about 200 staff, Hood said. In five to eight years, the plan is to increase the research group leaders' ranks to 20, with possibly 350 employees, Hood said.

Hochman said clinical researchers in the Providence system will collaborate with researchers at the Institute for Systems Biology. Hochman said Providence currently leases research laboratory space in Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood. "Our dream would be over time, over the next few years, to develop a scientific research institute in its own space," he said.


Copyright © 2016 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2016 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.