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Whitehead at center of consortium

Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., Affymetrix Inc. and Millennium Pharmaceuticals Inc. today announced the formation of a corporate consortium to fund a five-year research program in functional genomics at the Whitehead Institute/MIT Center for Genome Research.

The program, under the direction of Professor Eric S. Lander, director of Whitehead's Genome Center, will advance the development of gene-based technologies for research and health care.

Under the terms of the agreement, the three companies will support a program of investigator-initiated research at the Whitehead/MIT Center for Genome Research to develop the next generation of genomic technologies for the scientific community. This will be accomplished by providing funds totaling approximately $8 million per year for five years, and providing Whitehead's Genome Center with access to Affymetrix and Millennium technologies.

Scientists at the companies will also collaborate with scientists at the Genome Center in the development and application of new genomic tools. In return, the companies will receive certain licensing rights to all developments funded by the consortium or emerging from the use of contributed technology. Whitehead participants in the program will have the right to publish their research results promptly.

"The research program aims to lay a foundation for the `post-genome' world, when scientists know the complete sequence of DNA building blocks that make up the human genome," said Dr. Lander, professor of biology and a widely recognized pioneer in structural genomics, or genome mapping and sequencing.

"Over the past five years, we have made contributions to understanding the structure of the human genome--by building genome maps and deciphering DNA sequence," he said. "Ultimately, these efforts in structural genomics will give us the `periodic table' of all 100,000 human genes. But such a periodic table is only the beginning; the next challenge is to learn how these genes function in health and disease."

Whitehead's Genome Center began a small program in functional genomics last year. "The expanded program, funded by the consortium, will develop tools and strategies to allow us to trace the origin of common human genetic diseases, investigate DNA sequence variation, and correlate the pattern of gene activity with cellular processes and disease," Professor Lander explained.

"We believe that this program will serve as a model for future collaborations to fund research at the leading edge of biology," said Dr. Gerald R. Fink, director of the Whitehead Institute. "It's very unusual to see three companies working together in this way. The consortium will fund the development of tools and techniques that will be published, thus benefiting research and discovery efforts worldwide."

"Bristol-Myers Squibb is very excited to be an active member of this new alliance with Millennium and Affymetrix to support research at the Whitehead Institute," said Dr. Peter S. Ringrose, president of Bristol-Myers Squibb Pharmaceutical Research Institute. "This is a unique and highly leveraged collaboration that represents an important leap forward in translating structural genomics into the new and fascinating science of functional genomics and bioinformatics. This collaboration will help us better understand the underlying molecular mechanisms of important disease states, so that we can more effectively design and develop novel therapies for the next century."

"Affymetrix was founded on the belief that understanding the correlation between genetic variability and its role in health and disease would be the next step in the genomics revolution," said Stephen Fodor, president and CEO of Affymetrix. "This consortium is a natural and powerful part of this vision as it brings together partners with complementary technologies, skills and resources to generate the next level of value from genomics research."

"As genomics moves from an era of identifying gene sequences to determining the function of genes and their specific role in disease pathways, establishing a leading position will require a combination of innovation, technology, resources and scientific know-how," said Mark Levin, president and CEO of Cambridge-based Millennium. "We have assembled a unique collaboration that includes Eric Lander at the Whitehead Institute and scientists at Affymetrix and Bristol-Myers Squibb, along with Millennium scientists. Their combined efforts in basic research, leading genomics technologies and drug development can lead to both a further understanding of the genetic basis of complex diseases and the acceleration of the drug development process. We are delighted to participate in this important collaboration."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 30, 1997.

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