Genome Therapeutics Corp. has received $10 million from theNational Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop a computer-assistedmultiplex gene sequencing technology that the company said willprocess raw data 10 times faster than current DNA sequencers.Genome Therapeutics Chairman and CEO Robert Hennessey toldBioWorld the multiplex sequencing technology, which it licensed fromHarvard University, is in early stage development and already iscompetitive with Applied Biosystems ABI automated sequencers,which are used by other companies. Applied Biosystems is a divisionof Perkin-Elmer Corp. of Norwalk, Conn.With the three-year grant from the NIH's National Center for HumanGenome Research, Hennessey said Genome Therapeutics (formerlyknown as Collaborative Research), of Waltham, Mass., will move thetechnology to advanced stage automation, which would speed up genesequencing by tenfold over what is being done with ABI machines.Twenty-four scientists will be working on the project. The goal,Hennessey said, is for each scientist to process 10 million bases of rawDNA sequence per year. He said companies involved in genesequencing now are doing about one-tenth of that. The entire humangenome consists of 3 billion bases.Hennessey did not want to speculate on how many bases already havebeen sequenced. "It's difficult to know," he observed. "Some of thenumbers being circulated throughout the industry include fragments."He said, "One of the important things is that this is a large-scalesequencing technology that can be directed toward a variety ofdiseases."Another important aspect, Hennessey said, is that the backing of theNIH gives Genome Therapeutics considerable funding in the midst of afinancing crisis for many other biotechnology companies."What this means," he said, "is that we will continue to be around andwill be a serious player with an enabling technology that will give usmany disease targets, rather than the conventional approach of oneproduct and one target."Genome Therapeutics, which began trading under its new symbol(GENE) on the NASDAQ market Tuesday, has worldwide rights todevelop commercial applications for the multiplex sequencing. Usingthe technology, large pools of DNA can be sequenced and eachindividual DNA can be decoded. The idea is to increase the pace ofsequencing to speed up discovery of disease genes. For example, thecompany said, bacterial sequencing could be accomplished at a rate ofone genome a year.Genome Therapeutics acquired rights to the technology in late 1993.Hennessey said he expects sequencing for the H. pylori genome, whichhas 1.8 million bases, to be complete by the end of this year. H. pyloriis a bacteria believed to cause stomach ulcers and some gastro-intestinal cancers."Most companies tend to focus on large-scale gene sequencing orgenotyping " Hennessey said. "We're doing both. With multiplexsequencing we are doing significant large-scale sequencing and we alsoare doing significant mapping and genotyping."News of the grant was released to BioWorld after the market closedTuesday. Genome Therapeutics' stock closed at $2, unchanged. n

-- Charles Craig

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