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Dharmacon, Institutes Form siRNA Global Initiative

By Nancy Weil, IDG News Service

Nov 15, 2005 | Dharmacon has formed a global alliance with leading biomedical research centers aimed at speeding scientific and medical discoveries now that the first complete siRNA (small interfering RNA) library is available for targeting genes in the human genome, the company says.

The Genome-Wide RNAi Global Initiative includes a host of founding members in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany and is expected to expand, with additional nonprofit research institutions in North America, Europe, and Asia joining in the coming months, according to William S. Marshall, vice president of technology and business development for the Fisher Biosciences Group, Dharmacon’s parent company. Member institutions will share their work in high-throughput genomewide siRNA screening and drug discovery. (See Fully Equipped, page 22.)

RNA interference, or RNAi, is a naturally occurring gene-regulating mechanism. Although RNAi is not yet fully understood, scientists have discovered that it plays a number of roles at the cellular level, including providing protection from viruses and regulating gene development. RNAi is a commonly used tool among scientists seeking to discover what specific genes do and among those who are researching genetic pathways and cellular processes and mechanisms. Besides leading to better understanding of diseases and their causes, RNAi has also become a key component in drug discovery and research, along with related genomic research, including work with siRNA.

But one problem has been information sharing, because scientists globally have been hard at their own research without means to easily share what they have discovered or what they are working on. The global initiative that Dharmacon will oversee will involve a series of meetings where participants will decide on mechanisms for sharing data and timelines for making information available to all the institutions involved, Marshall says. The first such meeting was held in October in Boston (see sidebar, page 12). “We’re extremely excited about this new initiative,” Marshall says.

Dharmacon, which is based in Lafayette, Colo., provides RNA oligonucleotides, siRNA, and other RNAi products and technologies. As such, the company is in constant contact with scientists globally. Following discussions with them, they decided to help create an infrastructure and support for researchers who conduct large-scale screens of gene assays and who want to share their research more broadly.

The initiative will provide scientists with the ability to cross-reference research on specific disease states and to compare their research across the entire human genome. Cancer researchers had already made significant advances in understanding the genetics of different types of the disease before the human genome was cataloged, so it is no surprise that the founding group of global initiative members is heavily involved in cancer research.

Although there are a handful of known core causes and core strategies for treating cancer, different types of the disease “have very large differences in molecular basis,” Marshall says. He expects that the initiative will lead scientists to different types of interventions for various types of the disease and could also be key to understanding underlying biological processes and helping researchers identify potential side effects of drug treatments.

The initiative involves the distribution of the physical RNAi library to each of the institutions involved. In addition, the participants will meet to sort out infrastructure issues, whether a large repository will be created or whether individual institutions will maintain smaller data stores, and how to go about getting collaborative research published in top-tier scientific journals.

Founding initiative members include, among others, research institutes at the University of Toronto; the London Research Institute and the Institute of Cancer Research; German Cancer Research Center; UNMC Eppley Cancer Center at the University of Nebraska Medical Center; Netherlands Cancer Institute; the Scottish Centre for Genomic Technology and Informatics at the University of Edinburgh Medical School; University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center; and Yale University.

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