HALIFAX, Nova Scotia ¿ The biotechnology industry now generally accepts that the use of high-speed computers to manage and analyze biological information will revolutionize the prevention, detection and treatment of diseases, accelerate the discovery and development of new drugs and find important applications in agriculture, forestry, and aquaculture.

¿Explosive progress in biological research has led to an era of ever increasing amounts of genomic and DNA sequence information, yet the analysis of this information has barely begun,¿ said Arthur Carty, President of Canada¿s National Research Council (NRC). ¿Scientific opportunities in the future will depend on the ability to process and sift this information. We intend to remain at the forefront of molecular biology, and to derive benefits for Canadians from our research, hence our commitment to the development of bioinformatics.¿

Carty spoke at the launch of the Canadian Bioinformatics Resource (CBR), North America¿s largest DNA sequence retrieval system. Developed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, at the Institute for Marine Biosciences (IMB) ¿ which is internationally regarded as one of the world¿s highest performing DNA sequencing laboratories ¿ CBR is the national European Molecular Biology Network (EMBnet) node for Canada and a member of Asia Pacific Bionet. CBR is designed to bring together all the resources needed to conduct research and development, which are available through a high-speed network.

The network consists of two principal units. CBR-I is an Intranet site made up of over 40 Sun workstations and servers connected through Canada¿s advanced research network at seven different sites across Canada. This facility is reserved for NRC partnered research with the private sector. CBR-II is a public-access server in Halifax providing access to bioinformatics to non-commercial users. Essentially a mirror of CBR-1, CBR-II lacks access to certain proprietary software. However, it represents a low-cost access to the resource. Registered users pay an annual fee of only C$200 (US$130) that is designed to offset administrative and licensing costs.

Christoph Sensen, CBR manager, said any researcher in Canada working in a university, hospital, government department or industrial setting can benefit from CBR, since the researcher can gain access to more than 70 biotechnology databases. In addition, qualified users can access a complete set of software tools designed to assist in a variety of complex data analysis tasks.

Mississauga-based Base4 Bioinformatics Inc., has been selected by the NRC to provide all of the administrative and technical support to the users of the CBR. The company, which was formed in 1996, applies data and knowledge management tools to support research and development processes within the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors.

With world-class expertise and facilities, IMB has become a leading Canadian center for genomic sequencing and computer-based sequence analysis. One Canadian biopharmaceutical company, Kinetek Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Vancouver, British Columbia, is a recent example of an enterprise taking advantage of these resources. The company is focused on the discovery and development of small-molecule drugs aimed at blocking the action of cell signaling enzymes to treat diabetes, cancer and other chronic diseases. Kinetek¿s lead compound for Type 2 diabetes entered Phase I clinical trials in December 1998.

To advance its research programs, Kinetek has been awarded a C$350,000 grant from the NRC¿s Industrial Research Assistance Program to accelerate the use of proteomics in signal transduction.

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