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Precision Medicine World Conference (PMWC) 2017 Winds Up in Silicon Valley, Themes of Immuno-Oncology & Scientific Wellness Dominate

This year’s Precision Medicine World Conference (PMWC) 2017 in Silicon Valley welcomed 1,300 biotech professionals, 40 sponsoring companies, and 30 exhibitors from around the world and featured presentations by a number of towering figures in the field. The meeting was co-sponsored by Stanford Health Care, Intermountain Precision Genomics, the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF), and the Duke University School of Medicine. Among the over 150 session speakers were James Allison, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Immunotherapy Program at the University of Texas (UT) MD Anderson Cancer Center; Leroy Hood, M.D., Ph.D., Chief Science Officer, Providence St. Joseph Health; Yiwu He, Ph.D, Global Head of R&D at BGI (Beijing Genomics Institute) in China; Rade Drmanac, Ph..D., Chief Science Officer of Complete Genomics, a BGI company; Irv Weissman, M.D., Director of the Institute of Stem Cell Biology & Regenerative Medicine, Stanford School of Medicine; Jennifer Doudha, Ph.D., Professor of Chemistry & Molecular & Cell Biology, University of California-Berkeley; and Mark Fischer-Colbrie, President and CEO of Labcyte, the acoustic liquid handling company. Themes of immunotherapy for cancer, scientific wellness, liquid biopsies, biomarkers, the gut metabolome, genome sequencing, learning from big data, precision liquid handling via the use of sound, and the power of CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing dominated the three full days of stimulating sessions. Dr. Allison kicked off an early Monday morning session with a description of his seminal work over the last 30 years that has run from identification of the long-elusive T-cell receptor to his identification of the CD28 molecule as the T-cell’s gas pedal and the CTLA-4 molecule as the T-cell’s brakes. This latter discovery led to the development of the antibody drug ipilimumab that targets CTLA-4, removes the brakes on the T-cells, and helps launch a powerful immune response that that has shown effectiveness in the treatment of melanoma and other cancers. This work has helped launch a profound revolution in immunotherapy for cancer based on stimulating potent immune responses to cancers by removing so-called “checkpoint blockades” to T-cell proliferation. Science magazine selected “Cancer Immunotherapy” as its “Breakthrough of the Year in 2013. Dr. Allison reported that more recent work has shown the effectiveness of blocking the PD-1 molecule in restoring T-cell vigor and he reported evidence that the combination therapy of anti-CTLA-4 and anti-PD-1 may be superior to the use of either therapy alone.


Dr. Hood, longtime inventor and visionary in biology and biotech engineering, presented his latest foray into the future of medicine, particularly P4 medicine (predictive, preventive, personalized, and participatory). In a presentation titled “How Scientific Wellness Will Transform Healthcare,” Dr. Hood outlined how his company, the Institute for Systems Biology (ISB), has affiliated with Providence St. Joseph Health in a commitment to create healthier communities by bringing personalized medicine to patients in the Providence St. Joseph Health system, which covers seven western states and is the third largest health system in the United States. Dr. Hood also described the launch of a project with a start-up company Arivale, whereby Arivale will, in a three-year effort, analyze data from 2,000 Provident employees who will receive the new “scientific wellness” treatment, which includes regular interactions with wellness “coaches,” and compare the results with the corresponding data from 2,000 Provident employees who receive standard treatment.

Dr. Hood expressed his belief that “dense, dynamic, personal data clouds” for individual patients will allow the identification of “actionable possibilities,” that will permit the implementation of key changes that optimize wellness and extend healthy lifespan.

As proof of principle he cited “revolutionary” results of the 100 Person Wellness Project (HPWP) of 2014 ( This was a pilot project launched by the ISB in 2014 and completed in 2015. The project was based on a study of 108 individuals and involved the application of systems biology and P4 medicine to patient wellness. Dr. Hood has said that this project “is very exciting because conceptually and technically, it’s reached a real tipping point where we’re in a position to fundamentally change how healthcare is practiced.”

During the course of the HPWP, the ISB team conducting the study realized that to more efficiently and cost effectively provide wellness metrics to a broad cross section of the population ISB would spin out a scientific wellness company The result was Arivale, which launched on June 22, 2015. ISB President Dr. Hood and Associate Director Dr. Nathan Price are co-founders. For more information about Arivale, please visit

In the future, driven by advances enabled by the ISB, Providence, and Arivale cooperation, Dr. Hood predicts a number of revolutionary developments. These will include the widespread adoption of P4 medicine in large healthcare systems; the use of dense, dynamic personal data clouds to optimize wellness and decrease disease; the identification of actionable possibilities to optimize wellness; the creation of a scientific wellness industry; the dramatic reduction of healthcare costs, and, ultimately, within 10 years perhaps, the ability to bring scientific wellness to under-developed nations and truly “democratize” healthcare.


Dr. He of BGI described a new DNA sequencer developed by BGI in China and predicted that the cost of whole-genome sequencing might drop from $1,000 today to $100 by the year 2020. The new sequencer is called the BGISEQ-500 and it is a benchtop device that employs a unique DNA sequencing technology developed by Rade Drmanac, Ph.D., the CSO of Complete Genomics, a Silicon Valley company recently acquired by BGI. The technology involves the use of nanoarrays of DNA nanoballs and it enables massively parallel DNA sequencing without PCR issues. Dr. He emphasized that the ability to bring low-cost whole-genome sequencing to the masses would permit significant impacts on the incidence of birth defects and disease and would provide an avenue to longer lifespan. A January 18, 2017 article in Forbes Magazine article by Benjamin Shobert described BGI and was titled “Meet the Chinese Company That Wants to Be the Intel of Personalized Medicine.” (


Dr. Weissman spoke on “Immunotherapy: Immuno-Checkpoint Inhibitors and Beyond—Controlling Gene Expression with CRISPRi and CRISPRa.” Dr. Weissman and colleagues have identified a protein, CD47, that is highly expressed during the late stages of cancer stem cell progression and is currently being studied as a potential cancer therapeutic. Topics included his group’s work developing a robust technology based on catalytically dead CRISPR-Cas9 variants for reversibly turning on (CRISPRa) or off (CRISPR/i) the expression of any gene, and applications of CRISPRi/a for understanding disease mechanisms, defining drug targets, and treating disease by reversibly regulating gene expression without permanently altering patients’ DNA.


Dr. Doudna described how the bacterial CRISPR adaptive immune systems has been harnessed as a powerful genome engineering tool, enabling remarkable developments using this technology to modify, regulate, or visualize genes in a wide variety of organisms.


In a fireside chat session, Mr. Fischer-Colbrie, President & CEO of Labcyte, discussed “How to Commercialize Disruptive Technlogies That Advance Personalized Medicine,” with Alex de Winter, Ph.D., Director, Health Care Ventures, GE Ventures. Especially interesting was Mr. Fischer-Colbrie’s description of the Labcyte technology that enables liquid handling to be accomplished by the use of sound. This approach eliminates the need for pipets and permits the precise delivery of extremely small volumes, dramatically reducing costs. He suggested that precision medicine would be difficult to attain with imprecise liquid handling and that Labcyte might be a key enabler of this major healthcare advance. As a further note, Mr. Fischer-Colbrie is Chairman of the International Board of Directors of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF).


The terrific PMWC 2017 meeting was organized by Tal Behar, Co-Founder & President, PMWC Intl, Silicom Ventures, and Gadi Behar, Co-Founder & Chairman, PMWC Intl, Silicom Ventures.

by Michael D. O'Neill, M.A., Editor & Publisher, BioQuick News,

[James Allison] [Leroy Hood] [Yiwu He] [Rade Drmanac] [Irv Weissman] [Jennifer Doudna] [Mark Fischer-Colbrie]

[Institute for Systems Biology] [Providence St. Joseph's Health] [Arivale] [BGI-Beijing Genomics Institute] [Complete Genomics] [Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine] [Doudna lab] [Labcyte]

[Forbes Magazine story on BGI (Beijing Genomics Institute)] [New York Times article on Jennifer Doudna]

[Silicom Ventures]