News Article

Illuminating the future of genomic medicine

February 29, 2024
Colorful detail of fresnel lens showing the art behind the science

Jennifer Moody, Vice President of External Innovation at Danaher, shares how Danaher’s Beacons program drives transformational change by partnering with leading academics.

In the last year and a half, Danaher has launched many collaborations with leading academic researchers, including a major new center with Nobel laureate Jennifer Doudna and the Innovative Genomics Institute (IGI)


Why? What role do collaborations like this play at Danaher?

Science today, and in particular my field of genomic medicine, is moving at warp speed. Genomic medicine is also extremely complex, and requires understanding the disease biology, the biology of the therapeutic agents – like AAV, mRNA and CRISPR – how they are delivered to cells, manufactured, regulated, delivered to patients, integrated into the healthcare system, and more. Embedded in each of these workflows are challenges and opportunities for process improvement. Danaher is working hard to build the future of genomic medicine, but we cannot build internal expertise and capabilities with the speed and breadth required to be at the forefront of all the emerging technologies in this space.

Instead, we collaborate with the world leaders to drive transformational change in the way we manufacture these advanced therapies. We call these partnerships “Beacons.” The name comes from Jose-Carlos Gutierrez-Ramos, our Chief Science Officer, who imagined these initiatives as beams of light focused on particular problems.

Take the Danaher-IGI Beacon for CRISPR Cures. We want to increase the adoption of gene-edited cell therapies, and to truly enable that there needs to be a new paradigm for regulatory approval. At Danaher to date, we have generally not engaged with regulators to define regulations. That’s where the IGI comes in – they have the standing, experience, and the clinical development programs to lead those discussions. But we are working with IGI to develop a playbook – and a precedent – for CRISPR-based therapies, with vetted Danaher solutions “baked in.” 

How are Beacons structured?

We have several mechanisms for integrating external innovation into Danaher, with Beacons playing an important role in the early innovation ecosystem. We start by asking “What are the problems we need to solve for customers?” and “Can we address these problems internally?” If the answer to the latter is no, our next step is to identify the best external partner. Much of the real cutting-edge work for genomic medicines is happening in academia, so we find the academic teams best positioned in the space — who have complementary expertise and skills to ours — to help us develop novel and differentiated solutions to fuel new workflow or product development. 

The opportunities go both ways: We are learning from our academic partners’ groundbreaking science, and they are seeing what it takes to turn a scientific solution into a viable product. 

The end goal is to generate licensable assets for Danaher and its operating companies, which can then become new products. It’s really a win-win situation that accelerates the process from idea, to proof of concept, to product, to patient.

As you mentioned, genomic medicine is highly complex. What other challenges within genomic medicine are being addressed by Danaher Beacons?

One of the major challenges of genomic medicine is delivery: how to get the therapeutic agents into target cells. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, so we are approaching this challenge from multiple angles.

For instance, adeno-associated viruses, or AAVs, are workhorses for delivering genetic payloads into cells, and we need AAVs that are high-quality, efficient and can be produced in large quantities. We partnered with Aravind Asokan at Duke University School of Medicine to improve the manufacturability of AAVs using his lab’s expertise in synthetic virology, which complements the manufacturing prowess of Danaher businessess Aldevron and Cytiva.

We also need to develop new non-viral alternatives for delivery. Cytiva is currently working with Saar Gill and Friederike Herbst-Nowrouzi, investigators in the Center for Cellular Therapies at Penn Medicine, led by Carl June to investigate new approaches for non-viral gene editing to support new therapeutic development.

You described genomic medicine as a field that is moving at warp speed. How do you think the field will continue to evolve?

Genomic medicine is changing the practice of healthcare. We’re seeing amazing results with CAR-T for blood cancers and CRISPR for sickle cell anemia and beta thalassemia, and in the 5-to-10-year timeframe we are going to see traction on a broadened range of conditions, including solid tumors, autoimmune diseases, and rare diseases. What we see as remarkable today is going to pale in comparison to what comes next, such as unlocking genomic and regenerative medicines for currently intractable common diseases, like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Disease. What really excites me is thinking about how AI is going to accelerate this. 

Right now, it feels like we are in a Big Bang moment: the technology is unveiling, the applications are emerging, and we’re poised for a massive explosion in adoption.