July 3, 2003
"BioAdvance and nine Philadelphia universities and research organizations are joining forces to launch the Greater Philadelphia Bioinformatics Alliance. "
Alliance aims to synchronize math and biomedical research.
Philadelphia Business Journal
June 30, 2003
The $2.5 million initiative, funded by BioAdvance, is being created to link the knowledge of biomedical and computational researchers and practitioners in industry and academia. The money is coming from a portion of the $33.8 million BioAdvance received from Pennsylvania's tobacco settlement to operate the Biotechnology Greenhouse of Southeastern Pennsylvania.
The bioinformatics alliance will also work toward ensuring the region has trained bioinformatics experts to meet the future needs of biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies.
"When the Biotechnology Greenhouse was first formed, the research institutions and the life sciences community in general thought it was very important that bioinformatics be a priority," said Dr. Gary J. Kurtzman, managing director and chief operating officer of BioAdvance.
Bioinformatics is the use of computational tools, information technology, and databases to manage and analyze the vast amount of new information being generated in molecular and cellular biology, genomics, and other areas of biology and clinical medicine. It encompasses expertise from disciplines such as biology, chemistry, medicine, computer science, and engineering.
Kurtzman said the group's members -- the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Thomas Jefferson University, Temple University, Penn State University-Great Valley, University of the Sciences, Fox Chase Cancer Center, and Wistar Institute -- put forth an initial proposal for the alliance about a year ago.
"Their thought was, 'What can we, as academic partners, do in the area of bioinformatics, to create value for the region's academic and industry needs,'" Kurtzman said.
Their answer was an alliance that would link two distinct communities: The region's statistical and computing experts, who typically have little background in modern biology, and experts in biological and medical research, who often have little background in statistical and computational concepts.
"We have a strong mix of research institutions, and that's what leads to innovation," Kurtzman said.
Susan B. Davidson, a professor in the department of computer and information science at Penn, is co-leader of the Bioinformatics Alliance with Aydin Tozeren, a Drexel professor and director of the university's integrated bioinformatics program.
"In Philadelphia, there is a whole bunch of expertise in bioinformatics, but we've been pretty much acting as islands," Davidson said. "By working together, we can build off each other's strengths."
Davidson said the Philadelphia region is ideally suited for such an endeavor because of its wealth of research institutions and pharmaceutical manufacturers.
The key objectives of the alliance include:
1. Providing multi-level education and training programs in bioinformatics to develop and maintain a skilled work force;
2. Developing and supporting a network of academic, business, government, and venture capital institutions to identify bioinformatics needs and design solutions;
3. Providing an infrastructure for commercializing innovation resulting from Alliance activities; and
4. Forming what the consortium calls a "computational orchestra" to stimulate and capture innovation in bioinformatics.
Inspired by a visit to the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Center City, Drexel's Tozeren came up with the phrase "computational orchestra" to describe the group's effort to gather various computational experts and biologists for the purpose of tackling "real world" biomedical problems.
"They need to work together to make beautiful music," Tozeren said.
Last week, Tozeren said, the alliance held its first short course on DNA microarrays, which relates to the study of an orderly arrangement of DNA samples on computer chips or slides, created through the use of specialized robotics and imaging equipment.
"It was a huge success; [we attracted] participants from a wide variety of institutions and disciplines," he said.
Kurtzman said that BioAdvance and the alliance members are creating a Web portal to act as a clearinghouse for information, local and national, related to bioinformatics.