Last week's agreement granting Abraxis BioScience Inc. exclusive development and commercialization rights to a portfolio of cancer biomarkers developed at the University of Southern California marks a significant milestone for both institutions.

A biomarker is a substance whose detection can indicate a possible disease, and access to the intellectual property enables Los Angeles-based Abraxis to delve more deeply into the still experimental realm of personalized medicine.

That's a treatment approach in which doctors can more accurately predict which drugs may work best on a patient, based on the individual's unique genetic makeup.

Personalized medicine is a special interest of Abraxis Chief Executive Patrick Soon-Shiong, a surgeon and former UCLA researcher. His own research led to the formation of two companies in the mid-1990s that last year merged to create Abraxis, maker of the cancer drug Abraxane.

"Part of our program is identifying scientists and technologies that not only can help us develop new drugs but also use existing ones better," Soon-Shiong said.

In January, Soon-Shiong donated $35 million to Santa Monica's St. John's Health Center. A portion of the gift is earmarked to create a translational sciences center that may one day give patients early access to cutting-edge genetic medicine.

Meanwhile, the USC agreement terms of which were not disclosed marks the first significant announced deal since the private university's technology transfer activities were expanded in March with formation of the USC Stevens Institute for Innovation. The institute goes beyond the usual patent licensing to link innovative faculty members with potential investors to commercialize their research.

A team led by Dr. Heinz-Joseph Lenz, a colorectal cancer researcher at Norris Cancer Center, has been working on the genetic cancer biomarker project for several years. While the biomarkers Abraxis obtained focus on colorectal cancer, the research also can help develop biomarkers for other cancers.

"The challenge has been to keep up with all the new drugs that are now used to create (treatment) cocktails," said Lenz, who also is an associate professor of medicine at the Keck School of Medicine. "That's why it becomes so important to know which are most likely to work and create the least toxicity."

Senior Home Nursing School

With the nation's chronic nursing shortage especially acute in Southern California, the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging has taken the unusual step of launching its own nursing school.

Classes began this month for 24 students of the first class of licensed vocational nursing candidates at the home's new Annenberg School of Nursing. The classes began after five years of planning, significant grants and scholarship commitments from the Annenburg Foundation, UniHealth Foundation and private donors.

Tuition and scholarship incentives are designed to encourage graduates to consider making the Jewish Home their first job as a nurse. The Annenburg Foundation is providing $10,000 grants for the 48-week program, with the amount to be forgiven for graduates who agree to take a job at the home for at least two years. To cover the remaining $7,000 tuition, students have access to no-interest loan assistance from the L.A. Jewish Free Loan Program.

The Jewish Home now provides assisted and skilled nursing services to more than 1,000 seniors plus a variety of outpatient services for hundreds more. Around half of its 725-member staff are either registered nurses, licensed vocational nurses or certified nursing assistants. The home will soon open a new five-story residential tower at its Reseda campus. The school expects to be able to handle up to 80 students within three years and add a registered nursing program.

"We hope to not only provide for our own needs but for the entire community," said Molly Forrest, the home's executive director.

Staff Reporter Deborah Crowe can be reached at (323) 549-5225, ext. 232, or at .

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