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Fairfax Co. positioned to profit from personalized medicine

Tuesday - 4/17/2012, 2:58pm  ET

Fairfax County is comparatively well-positioned to profit from the emerging field of genomics and personalized medicine, but the county needs to do more to meet its needs, said Jerry Gordon, CEO of Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, on Tuesday.

Speaking to a group convened by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, Gordon said that means money and strong performance by community colleges to graduate mid-level technicians, along with the Metro access, quality of life and K-12 schools to lure highly educated scientists and doctors away from elsewhere.

"We need capital investments," he said. "Everything from community to angel [funding] to venture [capital] supporting this kind of goal. Venture capital in this region in medical innovation all goes to the other side of the river [to Montgomery County]. There's not that culture of investment here."

Gordon was joined by Dr. John Niederhuber, CEO of the Inova Translational Medicine Institute, a research outfit now being funded internally with $150 million from Falls Church-based Inova Health System. Inova's initial spending has helped the institute launch two early research efforts, including a new one to gather complete genome maps of 2,500 Fairfax County residents.

Gordon and Niederhuber spoke for 90 minutes on the potential business opportunities stemming from Inova's research. For years, Gordon has been bullish on the potential of genomics to yield major development wins for Fairfax, largely because of its heavy reliance on advanced computer analysis of the data.

"This will be the next big thing that will grow Fairfax County's economy," Gordon said. "All of this is about [information technology]. Six billion characters in a genetic code? ...That's an enormous requirement for information technology support. This industry is not all about science any longer. It's about science and its intersection with the IT base."

Gordon continued: "So when Montgomery County announces it's pursuing science and pursuing new advancements in personalized medicine-related areas, they're talking about the laboratory piece, and that's an important part inherent in this industry, but there's also the IT base that Northern Virginia, specifically Fairfax County, owns. ... This is an enormous part of our economic future."

Having the IT capacity, however, isn't enough, both Gordon and Niederhuber said. Gordon said Metro service still needs to be expanded to lure young, elite scientists and doctors to Fairfax County to join the workforce. And, the county must stay focused on keeping its elementary and secondary schools highly desirable to newcomers.

But the investment is at the core of the mission. To really create an institute that would become a world-wide leader, Niederhuber says the institute needs at least an additional $100 million to $150 million in outside support.

"We're going to need to bring resources in from outside the country to be successful, and we recognize that," Niederhuber said. "And that's why I don't sleep much."