HUMAN GENOME: 10 Drug Companies, British Trust Join Forces
Ten of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies and a British charity are teaming up to "create a fine-scale map of the human genome," promising to release all data to the public domain. The SNP Consortium, funded by $25 million from drugmakers and $20 million from the London-based Wellcome Trust, is seen as intended to build on the work of the human genome project, the New York Times reports, as it seeks to complement the NIH effort by "accelerat[ing] the search for disease-associated genes." The "new consortium aims to identify a large enough set of markers along the DNA that researchers can pinpoint the variant genes that contribute to each disease of interest" the Times reports (Wade, 4/15). The Washington Post reports that the move is "partly designed to ensure that upstart biotechnology companies" like Celera Genomics Corp. "don't patent discoveries about important genetic differences and lock out competitors who want to create drugs based on that information." Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, called the initiative "a fabulously exciting development," saying, "It's the strongest statement you could imagine" to support the argument that "this kind of research tool ought to be publicly accessible without constraint." Celera head Craig Venter "insisted yesterday that the drug company consortium does not pose a serious threat to his company," noting that "he expects to have several million variations in his database by the end of the year." Venter said his competitors "are trying to position themselves as though this were an early, zero-sum game, and it's not. Everybody's running around like the answer to all this is going to be taken care of in the next 24 months. We understand so little biology now that it's going to take literally decades and decades."
Who's On Board?
The participating pharmaceutical companies are: AstraZeneca PLC, Bayer AG, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., F. Hoffman-La Roche, Glaxo Wellcome PLC, Hoechst Marion Roussel AG, Novartis Pharma AG, Pfizer Inc., Monsanto Co.'s Searle and SmithKline Beecham PLC. Labs at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, Washington University in St. Louis, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York state and the Sanger Center in Hinxton, England, are the participating facilities (Gillis, 4/15).