NOVARTIS: Announces $250 Million Gene Research Institute
The "international pharmaceutical company Novartis" announced yesterday that it will open the $250 million Novartis Institute for Functional Genomics in La Jolla, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. The new institute "will study how individual genes contribute to diseases and develop treatments for them." According to Dr. Paul Herrling, director of research for Novartis Pharma, the company's pharmaceutical branch, "the bulk of future therapies for major diseases, including diabetes, cancer, heart diseases and neurological illnesses" will be based on "[u]nderstanding how genetic flaws can cause disease." He added that the institute will probably focus on "one or two dozen genes implicated in diabetes, mental conditions such as Alzheimer's [disease], heart ailments, degenerative muscle conditions such as Parkinson's [disease] ... and in the rejection of organ transplants" (Graham, 4/8). The New York Times reports that Novartis' investment in the institute will give the corporation "a major competitive advantage as drug discovery" focuses more on disease progression "at the molecular and genetic level." The new institute will employ around 100 scientists in 20 labs, and will "draw on research efforts at Novartis plants in Switzerland and its collaborations with small companies and academic centers."
Gene-ius At Work
According to Novartis officials, "the institute will look at how genes actually work in the body," rather than "concentrat[ing] on mapping gene sequences and looking for correlations with disease." Dr. Herrling said, "It became obvious that the bottleneck was not going to be sequencing, to build linkages to disease, but to work up that knowledge so you can actually use it." He added, "This will give us the opportunity to get to original disease targets before other people do and to have a proprietary advantage."
Next Door Neighbors
The New York Times reports that this is not Novartis' first foray into genomics. The company "entered a genomics partnership with Incyte Pharmaceuticals Inc. in January." In addition, in 1994, Novartis signed a "10-year, $200 million agreement" with the Scripps Research Institute -- which is next door to the new institute's proposed site -- "giving Novartis first rights to discoveries." According to Scripps Research Institute Chair Dr. Richard Lerner, the "Novartis Institute was important because it was the first entity created that assumes the completion of the Human Genome Project, the 15-year international effort to spell out each of the three billion letters in the human genetic code." He said, "We are about to receive the sequence of man. Although there are a bunch of efforts around the country, no one has yet realized that this is so important an event that we're going to enable ourselves for it, and build an organization to receive it" (Fisher, 4/8).