The government of Luxembourg is investing around €140 million over the next five years in a molecular medicine initiative involving strategic partnerships with three US research institutions.

The initiative spans three complementary projects with a particular focus on research into molecular diagnosis as a cornerstone of personalised medicine. It takes forward a government programme originally launched in 2004 with the aim of establishing centres of scientific and technological excellence in Luxembourg, helping to diversify the country’s economic base through the promotion of research activities (particularly biotechnology), and developing preventive medicine.

The US partner institutions are the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and the Partnership for Personalised Medicine (PPM), both in Phoenix; and the Institute for Systems Biology (ISB) in Seattle. From the Luxembourg side, the participants are three Public Research Centres (CRPs) – Santé, Henri Tudor and Gabriel Lippmann – as well as the University of Luxembourg.

All of these national institutions were closely involved in setting up the initiative, which is backed by Luxembourg’s Ministry of the Economy and Foreign Trade, Ministry of Culture, Higher Education and Research, and Ministry of Health.

Its centrepiece will be the foundation of an Integrated BioBank of Luxembourg by the three CRPs and the University of Luxembourg in partnership with TGen. Open to European/international co-operation and underpinned by capabilities in biotechnology and bioinformatics, the biobank will initially focus on collecting and analysing biological samples (e.g., tissue, blood) and related data to support oncology research – specifically, into lung and colon cancers.

The ultimate goal, explained the University of Luxembourg, is to promote and facilitate national and international research projects, advance translational research and serve as a catalyst to transform research findings into tools for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease.

The second strand of the initiative is a joint project between the University and ISB that aims to set up a Centre for Systems Biology Luxembourg (CSBL), in collaboration with the Public Research Centres, within five years. The first phase will deal with genome sequencing, especially the study of genetic systems, and the second with molecular fingerprinting (using blood proteins) of the main organs in the human body.

This project will seek to understand better how organisms malfunction in the event of illness, for the purposes of detection and follow-up. There is also a major technological component involving the development and integration of tools used in genomics, proteomics and bioinformatics.

The third strand involves a research partnership between CRP-Santé and the PPM, which was launched last autumn in Phoenix with support from two philanthropic foundations and is spearheaded by Dr Lee Hartwell, Nobel Laureate and director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

The objective here is to advance research in personalised medicine through projects geared to developing molecular diagnostics for specific diseases. These projects will centre on the selection and validation of biomarkers for more effective diagnosis and management of disease, from early detection through to therapeutic intervention.

The Luxembourg project will train its efforts on lung cancer, where treatment is hampered by a lack of reliable tools for early detection, the University of Luxembourg noted.