$3 million donation accelerates TGen breast cancer research

04/06/05

Paradise Valley businessman applies a lifetime of 'systems management' expertise to help speed research practices

The Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) today announced that Paradise Valley businessman and entrepreneur, Mr. Ray Thurston, has pledged $3 million to support three breast cancer research projects.

Mr. Thurston is not only providing funding; he is bringing his years of supply chain management and logistics experience to help accelerate TGen's research programs. He is interested in streamlining processes that expedite research and ultimately reduce the time required for the development of new diagnostic tests and drug treatments.

"So many medical problems touch all of our lives," said Mr. Thurston. "I was attracted to the focus that TGen has on compressing the time it takes to move discoveries from the laboratory into new diagnostics and treatments. I hope that the process of shrinking the timeline within a business framework might be of value to future TGen research projects."

Mr. Thurston has extensive expertise in delivering proven results. With over four decades of experience, Mr. Thurston is considered one of the leading authorities on supply chain management. He began his career as a bicycle courier for his father's delivery business and went on to found his own same-day air courier company, Scottsdale-based SonicAir, in 1976. Under Thurston's leadership, SonicAir evolved into a full-service supply chain logistics company that gave customers access to the fastest available delivery. United Parcel Service (UPS) acquired SonicAir in 1995 and in 1996 named Thurston CEO of the UPS Logistics Group. He retired in 1998 after doubling their revenue.

What also makes Mr. Thurston unique is his willingness to roll up his sleeves and work in the lab alongside TGen researchers. Dr. Heather Cunliffe, head of TGen's Breast Cancer Research Unit, has been training Mr. Thurston in molecular biology, including mandatory lessons in laboratory safety. He also takes an active role in monthly lab meetings, where TGen researchers discuss scientific progress and review budgets and timelines. By understanding the research Mr. Thurston will be better equipped to identify process improvement possibilities.

"To the students and staff in the lab, Ray is a routine trainee," said Dr. Cunliffe. "A bit older (and wiser perhaps) than most new students, but he has been trained like any other new student, gaining the necessary scientific understanding to move these projects forward."

As Mr. Thurston becomes more familiar with the laboratory 'supply chain', he is meeting with TGen faculty and staff to help outline a more-business oriented plan in this decidedly scientific framework.

"The new frontier in bringing the human genome project to patient application is the integration of complex information from genomic, medical, and computer studies-a field we call 'systems biology'," said Dr. Jeffrey Trent, TGen's President and Scientific Director. "Mr. Thurston has been successfully applying systems management to the business sector for many years and we are learning ways to apply these engineering principals to the task of fighting disease. It is a remarkably unique and productive partnership."

Over the course of this research, Mr. Thurston will stay connected with progress through the lab and will play an integral role in helping improve productivity thus shaving time from various research components.

"It's been such an eye-opening experience to work with Mr. Thurston," said Dr. Cunliffe. "We have put in place a new milestone-based model to track projects and budgets to assure that our outcomes are achieved as quickly as possible."

The breast cancer projects include:

1. A study that will help physicians more accurately diagnose and treat patients who have a genetic predisposition for developing breast cancer.
2. A study that will determine which tumors are most likely to respond to a particular therapy, optimizing treatment for some women with an appropriate anti-cancer agent and saving others from expensive unnecessary treatment.
3. A prospective study that will leverage the results of the previous two studies to determine the most effective treatments for individual tumors based on their genetic information.

Using cutting-edge technology, this research will likely identify molecules that will be targets for novel diagnostics and therapeutics in breast cancer, a goal in line with TGen's vision of personalized disease management.

"Since the day it was conceived, TGen hoped to increase the speed in which genetic discovered were moved into the clinic," said Dr. Trent. "Applying systems engineering to medical research is where the future of medicine is heading and we are delighted that Mr. Thurston is helping us achieve that future even faster."

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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