Moffitt, Merck to Target Personal Care for Cancer Patients

Moffitt Cancer Center
TAMPA -

It's envisioned as a public-private partnership that will use technology on the molecular level to come up with new ways of treating - and preventing - cancer. It will have the high-tech name of M2Gen. The two 'M's' stand for Moffitt Cancer Center and Merck pharmaceuticals.

Moffitt CEO William Dalton says the partnership has a significant potential to save lives. The plan is to create a statewide database of tumors and clinical information. Dalton expects in five years, information will be on file from 30,000 patients.

DALTON: It ultimately will lead to radical new ways of practicing medicine. One that creates individualized treatments for cancer patients, based on their unique cancer bio-markers. Rather than just blind treatment, each individual will have tailor-made therapy on their unique profile. That's where we're at. That's why this is so exciting.

It is also expected to create 160 jobs, with average salary of $80,000.

New Jersey-based Merck has deep-enough pockets to help fund the operation. Last year, the world's second-largest pharmaceutical company reported $22 billion in revenue. Still, that doesn't let taxpayers off the hook.

The state has agreed to chip in $15 million, with Hillsborough County contributing the land and $20 million. In addition, Tampa will put in half a million dollars. Announcement of the new site for the 50,000 square-foot research center should come in several weeks. Speculation has centered on an industrial park on a former airfield between Busch Gardens and USF.

Gov. Jeb Bush says the state money will come from a Incentive Fund that lures large-scale business or research projects.

BUSH: This has been a collaborative effort, and the state is in better shape because the Legislature had this unique ability to look over the horizon and not just focus on the tyranny of the present, but to focus on how the state could be if we thought about a better place. How we could diversify our economy, create high-wage jobs and be part of the exciting times for curing cancer and many other things.

Dalton says the mission of M2GEN will be to develop deliver targeted, personalized cancer care.

DALTON: When I was a student, you could measure one gene, one time, and it would take you a week to do it. Now in a day, you can measure 30,000 genes simultaneously in one day. With that new knowledge, you can basically profile any patient's tumor and determine the uniqueness of that tumor.

Dalton says that means doctors will soon be able to determine why some patients respond to therapy and others don't. That knowledge could enable researchers to predict what treatment each patient would likely respond to.

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