Romancing the Genome

The love story that may spark Arizona's New Economy.

Mallery was quickly enmeshed in a public policy issue that would soon lead him to some of the top cancer and genomics researchers in the world. This engagement would be an effort unlike any he had undertaken with money and power as the spoils.

This mission was triggered by his wife's tortuous battle with cancer.

"She went through everything. She went through chemotherapy. She went through radiation. She went though five major abdominal surgeries," he says. "She was so fit, she would bounce back each time.

Arizona Cancer Center director Daniel Von Hoff hopes IGC will lead to new cancer drugs.
Arizona Cancer Center director Daniel Von Hoff hopes IGC will lead to new cancer drugs.
Phoenix City Councilman Greg Stanton believes IGC is a great investment for the city.
Phoenix City Councilman Greg Stanton believes IGC is a great investment for the city.

"But after two years of chemotherapy, your body just sort of wears down. That's poison. That's all it is. It's like taking a shotgun, like fighting a terrorist on a plane with a shotgun. Eventually you are going to destroy the plane if you don't get 'em right away."

Francie was treated at the Arizona Cancer Center at the University of Arizona in Tucson — an institution Mallery considers to be one of the best in the world. The long, exhausting drives between Phoenix and Tucson for chemotherapy treatments allowed time for thoughts about the future and ways to ease patient suffering.

Mallery's first goal was to eliminate the tedious 200-mile round-trip drive to Tucson. He got involved with helping to raise money to open the Arizona Cancer Center North at Scottsdale Healthcare.

"They needed $25 million, and I pitched in and helped them to get that going sooner rather than later, because 70 percent of the patients in Tucson at the Arizona Cancer Center drive there from Phoenix," he explains.

During this effort, Mallery worked closely with Arizona Cancer Center director Daniel Von Hoff. Mallery was soon drawn into discussions about fundamental cancer research. Von Hoff, an expert in the development of anticancer drugs, introduced Mallery to his longtime friend, Jeffrey Trent, who was leading a team of 500 scientists in mapping the human genome.

A graduate of Arcadia High School, Trent earned his masters and doctorate in genetics at the University of Arizona before moving on to the University of Michigan and then to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Since 1993, Trent has served as NIH's scientific director of the National Human Genome Research Institute and as chief of the Cancer Genetics Branch.

By December 2000, the three men highly distinguished in their respective fields — the lawyer, the anticancer drug developer and the genome scientist — were working together under the umbrella of the International Genomics Consortium.

The IGC mission is straightforward: create a carefully controlled database in which thousands of cancerous tissues would be analyzed for their genetic traits. Its goal is ambitious: 10,000 tumor samples would be analyzed in three years, and all the information would be freely available on the Internet. Researchers worldwide would use the information to help develop customized treatments to fight cancer and perhaps even cure it before it has a chance to manifest itself.

Rather than throwing away cancerous tissues, 19 medical centers across the nation would collect tumors and send them to IGC for genome analysis. Patients would remain anonymous, but a system would be employed to track their responses to treatments that may develop.

Mallery says genomics holds the promise of creating targeted treatments for diseases, based on which gene is malfunctioning.

"The beautiful part about genomics is that you can individualize patient diagnosis and therapy," he says.

The promise of genomics and custom cancer treatments will come too late for Francie, who passed away last December at age 59. The couple had time to reflect on her impending death. When Mallery speaks about his wife, it's as if she's still next to him, encouraging him in his latest quest.

"She said it best," he says. "Someday when we are looking back on our lives, she will say that it didn't matter how long she lived, whether it was 59 or 95. The important thing is that she achieved everything that was important to her. She had just a great marriage, a wonderful family and lots of friends.

"And frankly, I'm very thankful for what we had and will have, and I simply want to use my time well.

"I cannot think of better use of time than doing something about cancer and other such disease. It's doable now, thanks to genomics."

While the press is focusing on efforts to raise $114 million to attract Jeffrey Trent and his team of scientists to Arizona, it has virtually ignored the salient fact that IGC has been here since last October.

Last fall the consortium quietly set up "temporary" headquarters at Scottsdale Healthcare's newly dedicated Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center. There, IGC began a series of tests using its microarray gene expression technology on brain and colon tumors. These tests are laying the groundwork for IGC's centerpiece program, the Expression Project for Oncology, which will study 10,000 tumors.

Despite the widespread perception that IGC is being courted to set up operations in downtown Phoenix, the most important research by the consortium — the Expression Project for Oncology — is planned to be conducted at Scottsdale Healthcare, says Phoenix assistant city manager Sheryl Sculley.

The opening of the Piper Cancer Center last December heralded a new alliance between Scottsdale Healthcare, U of A's Arizona Cancer Center, the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust and the International Genomics Consortium.

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