Hoffmann-La Roche Inc. agreed to contribute funding tohelp the not-for-profit Jackson Laboratory, a 66-year-oldgenetics research institution in Bar Harbor, Maine,expand its bioinformatics program for understanding thefunction of human genes and their roles in disease.

The Nutley, N.J., pharmaceutical company, a subsidiaryof Basel, Switzerland-based Roche Holdings Ltd., is thefirst drug maker to join the Jackson Laboratory'sBioinformatics Consortium. Jackson officials are limitingthe group to eight pharmaceutical companies that willprovide equal amounts of funding over four years.

The drug firms are being asked to support what isdescribed as a "multi-million dollar expansion" ofJackson's existing bioinformatics resources, which areaccessible to the public. Specific funding goals were notdisclosed and the other seven drug makers targeted forparticipation were not identified.

Kenneth Paigen, director of the Jackson Laboratory, saidhis institution receives nearly $3 million a year from theNational Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Md., forbioinformatics projects, which include the "MouseGenome Data Base and The Encyclopedia of the MouseGenome graphical mapping software." The W.M. KeckFoundation in Los Angeles also contributed $250,000 tobegin development of the laboratory's first mouse geneexpression data base.

The Jackson Laboratory's research focuses on unravelingthe secrets of human genetics through study of the mousegenome and development of experimental mouse modelsof human diseases. The institute's genomic data basescontain information developed by researchers worldwideconcerning the identification and function of genes.

Bioinformatics is aimed at creating new computersoftware tools to relate what is discovered throughbiological studies of mice to an understanding of humandiseases such as cancer, obesity, diabetes, heart diseaseand AIDS.

Paigen said, "When we talk about human diseases, suchas cancer and diabetes, they are multigenic diseases andtrying to discover the genes involved is difficult. We neednew statistical methods to carry out analyses to find thegenes."

The bioinformatics consortium, he said, will helppharmaceutical companies take advantage of publiclyavailable genomic information for drug discovery.

"The concept is to bring into existence something ofbenefit for the research community and industry," Paigenadded.

Drug makers sought for the program, he noted, werethose "that see bioinformatics as an important newdevelopment in biomedical research and want toincorporate it into their programs for drug discovery."

Among the bioinformatics tools needed are those thatallow comparison of information contained in JacksonLaboratory data bases with that in other public data basesaround the world, such as the NIH's GenBank, which hashuman gene and protein sequences.

By participating in the consortium, the drug companieswill receive training in how to use the JacksonLaboratory's data bases. In addition to money, the lab'sresearchers will get input from pharmaceutical firms onwhat they need to speed their drug research.

Darien Wilson, spokeswoman for Roche, said hercompany hopes the association with the JacksonLaboratory will speed drug discovery.

Roche has conducted genomics research through itsInstitute for Molecular Biology. Wilson said theinstitute's work will be expanded to include drugdiscovery once it relocates from Nutley to Palo Alto,Calif.

Roche also has a major genomics collaboration withMillennium Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Cambridge, Mass.,to develop drugs for obesity and diabetes. n

-- Charles Craig

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.