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RNAi Consortium Allies Big Pharma, Academia

By Kevin Davies

April 15, 2005 | Investigators from three major pharmaceutical firms – Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly & Co., and Novartis AG – are joining forces with the Broad Institute and other leading academic centers to create the RNA Interference (RNAi) Consortium.

This public-private alliance, funded to the tune of $18 million over three years, will create a "took kit that lets you test the function of every human gene in your own experiment," according to Broad Institute director Eric Lander.

Other members of the consortium include chemical supplier Sigma-Aldrich; academic institutions Mass General Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Whitehead Institute, Columbia University, and Washington University. Also contributing is the Academia Sinica-National Research Council in Taiwan.

Lander said that the 11 participating organizations form a unique collaborative group that will produce “a comprehensive set of reagents to be used in thousands of laboratories. In addition, the organizations will benefit from sharing their expertise to advance the technology and to accelerate its systematic application in basic biomedical research and drug discovery.”

“In order to advance pharmaceutical science, fundamental tools like RNAi need to be made available and accessible to scientists around the world. We’re delighted to help make that possible,” said Mark Fishman, president of the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research.

RNAi is an exciting, naturally occurring phenomenon by which the expression of messenger RNA molecules is specifically targeted and deactivated (see Bio•IT World “Running Interference,” December 2004). Discovered as recently as 1998, RNAi has already reached the clinic, with at least two biotech companies launching clinical trials.

The major goals of the consortium are to produce a comprehensive RNAi toolkit that would enable researchers to specifically shut down expression of some 15,000 genes in both human and mouse cells, probing their relevance to a host of different diseases. The consortium also plans to develop high-throughput screening procedures for the entire library of RNAi reagents. 

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