TAMPA — Moffitt Cancer Center's ambitions to become a leader in personalized cancer treatment advanced this week with the announcement of a new research partner with global reach.
M2Gen, the cancer center's for-profit research subsidiary, has signed a deal with Covance Inc. to develop cancer drugs by tapping into its extensive database of patient information.
M2Gen has collected about 35,000 tumor samples, stored in freezers on its north Tampa campus. About half have been analyzed for unique genetic markers that could become potent targets for cancer therapies.
M2Gen sees its database of genetic and clinical information — one of the largest of its kind — as a way to accelerate bringing new drugs to the market. It has been trying to develop a business model around identifying the patients most likely to benefit from the therapies and matching them to clinical trials.
"No one institution can do everything," said Dr. Bill Dalton, who last year stepped down as Moffitt's president and CEO to lead M2Gen. "By working with places like Covance, we can start developing new therapies that aren't available yet."
He declined to disclose financial terms of the deal with Covance, a publicly traded company based in Princeton, N.J., that describes itself as one of the world's largest and most comprehensive drug development services companies.
M2Gen's information can help design clinical trials and place patients into them, but actually running the trials is outside of its scope, Dalton said. That's where Covance comes in.
Covance will have the exclusive rights to market its trial-matching services with M2Gen. The partnership can be extended beyond its initial three years.
The concept is a new model for M2Gen, which launched in 2007 with the promise of breaking scientific ground while creating high-paying biotech jobs. More than $35 million in public dollars have been invested.
Initially, it had an exclusive partnership with drug giant Merck, which bankrolled nearly $100 million — the majority of the venture. But that deal expired after five years. Dalton said M2Gen and Merck continue to work together on a project-by-project basis.
Now M2Gen considers itself a "health information solution company," Dalton said. It has three trials running in the clinical trial matching business that it is trying to build. Nearly a dozen more are under development.
Under its arrangement with Covance, M2Gen can work directly with Merck and other pharmaceutical companies, Dalton said.
He declined to comment on M2Gen's profitability. But according to a report filed by Moffitt for bondholders, M2Gen posted a $2.3 million loss on $6.3 million in total revenue for the year that ended June 30.
The year before, it lost about $935,000 on $8.7 million in revenue.
"Right now we are in growth mode," Dalton said. "That's expensive, but we're very excited."
He said M2Gen and Moffitt hope to expand the national network of hospitals that has helped build its database. So far, 95,000 patients have enrolled, agreeing to be followed for life and contacted when promising drugs surface.
"All cancer centers want to try to match their patients to the best therapies based on their clinical and molecular data. We happen to have a head start," said Dalton, who also directs Moffitt's personalized medicine institute. "The best thing to do now is to work with our colleagues and improve the effort with what they bring to the table."
Letitia Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8330.