CTG sees future in genetic health research

March 7, 2014 Updated Mar 7, 2014 at 9:40 AM EDT

By Dan Miner, Reporter- Business First

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CTG sees future in genetic health research

March 7, 2014 Updated Mar 7, 2014 at 9:40 AM EDT

Walk into a doctor's office thirty years from now, and you'll probably be submitting a sample that gives access to your hereditary makeup.

From that test, healthcare systems will basically be able to pinpoint the genetic diseases from which you'll suffer. They'll be able to tell, for instance, whether or not you inherited your family's history of breast cancer, or Alzheimer's disease, or arthritis.

Then they will enact a proactive plan that eliminates the threat or mitigates its eventual effect.

But there's a lot of work to be done first. Stakeholders are hoping the University at Buffalo-New York Genome Center project brings that work to Buffalo.

This is the basic version of what's happening, as told by CTG Inc. President and CEO James Boldt, the biggest private partner involved the project.

Boldt and fellow company leaders spent weeks analyzing the short-term impact of the project, and eventually felt comfortable with a projection of 300 new jobs in the next five years.

He sat down with Business First recently to discuss how that growth will happen.

The University at Buffalo already has substantial supercomputing capacity at its Center for Computational Research. So it was an ideal fit for Gov. Andrew Cuomo's down-payment on genomic medicine in New York state. The governor announced recently that $50 million would go toward building even more infrastructure at the CCR, sited at UB's Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

UB will partner with the Manhattan-based Genome Center (recipient of $55 million in state funds to pursue the project) to build a database of patient health records and hereditary data that's been stripped of identifying information.

That database is the crux of the project - allowing the analysis of huge amounts of data and able to produce findings about everything from genetic tendencies toward disease to the effectiveness of treatments.

Enter entities such as CTG, a Buffalo-based public company which has been maneuvering itself for years to capitalize on the confluence of IT and healthcare.

From that work has come an example of what's to come: CTG has developed software that can read genetic data of patients with kidney problems and identify which of them are likely to undergo the dramatic, and very expensive, process of kidney failure. It is currently marketing the software.

The success of that project will provide more cash, and cachet, to develop and sell further tests using UB's database. Boldt acknowledged the possibility that the kidney project won't produce customers, but pointed out it's a singular product positioned to save healthcare systems and insurance huge amounts of money.

With insurance companies and hospitals increasingly looking to save money, Boldt said CTG's kidney product is one small example of a field that will explode in the coming decades.

Proximity to databases will be important, given the strict confidentiality requirements of the projects. Companies will locate near them and grow, he said. The UB-Genome Center project includes several other out-of-town or new companies locating near the CCR.

"This is the future," Boldt said. "We'll get projects from customers looking for very specific data trends in very specific diseases."

Boldt said the research that went into the kidney project has given it insight into the genetic markers associated with congestive heart failure, mental health and chemical dependency.

CTG is also working with Roswell Park Cancer Institute, which also has a supercomputer that collects and analyzes genetic data, on a project related to the genetic markers that indicate types of cancer.

Boldt acknowledged the complexity of the scenario, but said he believes people will someday look at a vibrant cluster of companies on the medical campus that use UB's supercomputers; they'll relate those companies to the tests that predict their future health.

A forward-looking project will become more clear in the future, he said.

"I don't think people in Western New York appreciate how big of a deal this is for us going forward," he said.

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