Brett J. Davis, Solutions Executive, IBM Healthcare and Life Sciences
Biobanking has been getting some publicity lately. The Wall Street Journal just ran one of the best summaries to date on the importance of biobanks to personalized medicine. The article reports the story of Kathy Giusti, a 47 year old woman diagnosed with multiple myeloma (a rare and currently incurable cancer of the blood). "When she (Kathy) asked researchers at a 2004 meeting what it would take to speed up the search for treatments, she says they told her that 'the biggest obstacle was getting tissue from multiple-myeloma patients to study and test.' So she decided to give them something to get started: In 2005, the Multiple Myeloma Research Consortium, founded by Ms. Giusti, started its own biospecimen bank."
The good news is that Kathy's consortium is one of the many biobanks popping up right now. As another example, The Lance Armstrong Foundation recently awarded a grant to the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California to set up a Germ Cell Tumor and Tisue Bank Resource.
Many groups are unable to start biobanks due to the costs of maintaining them. Kathy reports that it cost between $2 and $3 million to start the Multiple-Myleoma bank. Despite the costs of biobanking it is imperative that these resources be in existence. As the Journal states, " In 2002, the National Dialogue on Cancer, a forum of private-sector, academic, government and nonprofit groups, identified access to high-quality tissue as a key barrier in drug development." With an increase of biobanks the chance for more cancer-preventive and curing drugs also rises.
I am privileged to know Kathy and her story of innovation and determination is incredible. It was her shear determination to push through the many legal, financial and scientific challenges to get this initiative underway that has made it such a success. But in my view, I hope the community learns from this process and begins to systematically look at ways to break down these barriers so future innovators like Kathy can focus their energy on leveraging the biobank to find cures for disease rather than having to invest so much in simply getting the asset in place.
IBM’s Global Biobanking Summits hosted in 2004 and 2005 aimed to bring the community together to address these obstacles and we recently teamed with FasterCures to launch a portal to educate the broader community about best practices in biobanking. I encourage you to visit the site and join the global dialogue about this critical topic.