PacBio Chief Scientist Heads to NYC to Run New $100M Genomics Center at Mt. Sinai

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Eric Schadt, one of the world’s top researchers looking at how changes in the genome lead to disease, is leaving his full-time job as chief scientist of Pacific Biosciences to spearhead a new genomics research center armed with more than $100 million of financial backing at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

This new arrangement is being set up as a bi-coastal collaboration between Menlo Park, CA-based PacBio (NASDAQ: PACB) and Mt. Sinai, in which Schadt will divide time between academia and industry. Schadt will still be chief scientist of PacBio, helping craft company strategy, but it will be a part-time role. Schadt, 46, says he will spend about 75-80 percent of his time as director of Mt. Sinai’s new Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology, and as chair of the medical school’s department of genetics. His Mt. Sinai teams will seek to get the most bang out of PacBio’s fast new gene sequencing machines and tools made by rivals like Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN) and Life Technologies (NASDAQ: LIFE).

The union of PacBio and Mt. Sinai is a high-profile effort to bridge the traditional divide between lab research and clinical treatment of patients. For Mt. Sinai, hiring a star like Schadt means it will likely attract more donations, and be able to recruit many more bright young physicians and scientists interested in genomic-based personalized medicine. For PacBio, it hopes to learn how to best position its instrument with customers around the world, after hearing from Schadt how it works in the trenches.

And for Schadt, it gives him the chance to work on the inside of an ambitious medical system in the nation’s biggest city, which sees about 500,000 patients a year, giving it the potential to capture lots of biological samples from patients. Those precious samples, which can be hard to obtain and share in traditional academic settings, will be kept on electronic medical records in the Mt. Sinai system. The records will capture results of genomic tests, plus more traditional lab tests of disease. Those are dots that rarely get fully connected in today’s medical centers.

“This is enormous for us. If you’re not world-class in genetics, you can’t be a world-class medical school and academic medical center. By adding Eric, it assures we’ll be among the very best places in genetics,” says Dennis Charney, the dean of Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. “We see Mt. Sinai being at the vanguard of the genomic revolution. When these genetic findings become actionable for medicine, Mt Sinai could be a major place that makes it all happen.”

Says Schadt: “This is the exact right thing I’ve always wanted to do. I won’t have anybody else to blame if I can’t pull off something significant here.” PacBio CEO Hugh Martin added in a statement: “With a strong commitment, shared vision, and extensive access to patient samples, we believe Mount Sinai is a perfect partner.”

Schadt, who I profiled in these pages in March 2009 and who was more recently written about in a 6,000-word piece by Esquire’s Tom Junod, made his name in biology over the past decade while at Merck’s Rosetta Inpharmatics unit in Seattle. There, Schadt and his colleagues published seminal papers that sought to go beyond the basic sequence of 3 billion chemical units that make up a human genome. Schadt and his colleagues tackled the immensely complex next step of trying to help explain what all those data points mean. The concept, sometimes called “network biology,” is about looking at faulty DNA and showing it causes faulty transcriptions of RNA, which leads to the production of proteins that go awry and cause diseases like cancer.

Schadt eventually left Merck in the spring of 2009, insisting that … Next Page »

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3 responses to “PacBio Chief Scientist Heads to NYC to Run New $100M Genomics Center at Mt. Sinai”

  1. Here’s a comment from Stephen Friend, the president and co-founder of Sage Bionetworks.

    “Eric’s move to Mt Sinai is an awesome opportunity for him and the group he will form there to advance the building of cutting edge network driven models of disease. Do not be surprised if this helps New York become further established as the new hot area for biotechnology. We at Sage are excited as this affords an opportunity for him to continue as a Sage Board member, function there as leader of one the key Sage Federation labs, and quite probably develop a new Sage outpost on the East Coast.”

  2. There is an array of most remarkable statements in Luke’s assessment of Eric becoming the Director of the Mount Sinai Institute of Genomics AND Multiscale Biology. One axiom is that “If you’re not world-class in genetics, you can’t be a world-class medical school and academic medical center”. All will take this to the heart – but precious few will be able to erect such “facility as part of a more than $2.25 billion strategic investment plan at Mt. Sinai”. And the money part may be relatively easy amidst the Battelle Study assessing the economic impact of Genome Revolution (just in the USA) to $796 Bn (bigger than the 2010 Groos Domestic Product of Brazil, about the same as the GDP of Russia, and just slightly smaller than the GDP of India). A harder part will be to realize with leading scientists that “Genomics became Informatics” (said LeRoy Hood first, 2002, and now the Battelle Study clinched the paradigm shift). Wherever the “old school” is entrenched, progress might be slowed – lending a chance for aggressively budding institutes to leapfrog to the top by embracing “rebels turned leaders” – as Andrew Pollack, NYT calls in his coverage a spade a spade. Perhaps the third very remarkable observation of Luke is that Eric amidst the NYC financial centers will be able to draw proprietary algos and safeguarded HPC solutions that “financial calculation” has validated over many decades (fractal stock-trading will be an eye-opener for those who made a fortune – and now realize that *their* computing savvy could be leveraged at ease at a time when boomers and their families face “late onset hereditary diseases” (most notably, cancers). This can perhaps be outmatched in California only, where “defense computing” has also worked out and validated massively parallel, superfast and small footprint-low consumption chips and HPC solutions (FPGA-s and GPU-s) to run the fiercely safeguarded defense-validated algos; Pattern recognition, Neural Nets, Multiscale and Fractal (scale-free) coding, etc. Having worked at both pillars (NYC and Silicon Valley) for decades) IMHO Eric “asked for it”; picked the most diverse US cultures to bridge. If anyone can do it, Eric will! – Andras Pellionisz