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“Population doctor” applying tools of genomics in quest for prevention strategies

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2004 - Summer


Seven years after his graduation, Gualberto Ruaño, Ph.D. ’92, M.D. ’97, isn’t content to treat one patient at a time. Instead he is continuing a long-term effort to personalize medicine through a population approach. “I really think of myself as treating the world,” he said.

From 1992 to 1996, Ruaño was chief scientific officer and then CEO at BIOS Laboratories, a New Haven-based company that manufactured and sold genetics research products. Then, in 1997, he founded Genaissance Pharmaceuticals, a personalized medicine company that uses genomic data to guide drug-discovery strategies. Led by Ruaño as CEO, Genaissance went public in 2000, and the company is still operating at Science Park in New Haven, but Ruaño decided the time was right for a shift in focus—away from treatment and toward prevention.

Last autumn Ruaño launched Genomas, a company that will market diagnostic systems using genetic and physiological markers to assess nonpharmacological strategies for improving patient health. Ruaño predicts that prevention of obesity will be the first significant application of this technology.

“It’s time to look at prevention with the same level of seriousness as we think of drugs,” he said. “Everyone knows that prevention is good, but the results have been very mixed at best. … Now the obesity epidemic will force us in the medical profession to apply cutting-edge science to develop strategies to optimize prevention.”

The goal of Genomas is to apply genomic technologies to understanding the way genes influence patients’ responses to diet, nutrition, exercise and environmental exposures. The first step is to conduct research that will be as exacting and scientifically based as the controlled clinical trials that are required when new drugs are developed. “We have to find out what the genetic markers are and evaluate them,” Ruaño said. At this point Genomas has a handful of employees and is self-funded, but it has licensed research findings in exercise genetics, and in June it became a bricks-and-mortar entity. Ruaño and Hartford Hospital announced a collaboration to explore the role of genetics in the ways people lose weight and respond to exercise. As part of their collaboration Genomas moved into office and laboratory space at the hospital.

Ruaño’s aim is nothing short of creating an operating system for health care of the future. “The more we can customize care based on DNA, the more we can use our understanding of genomics to improve life and create new industries.” But he’s not stopping there. The next step, he said, is mental health. “Psychology is also influenced by the variability in people’s genes, but stay tuned. That’s for the next story.”

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