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Blueprint Lays Off Half its Staff in Face of Funding Gap, But Says BIND Will Stay Online

NEW YORK, May 3 (GenomeWeb News) - The Blueprint Initiative, a non-profit research program housed at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute at Toronto's Mt. Sinai Hospital, was forced to lay off 33 people, or around half its staff, today as it faces a gap in its funding.


The project, which was awarded Can$29 million ($23.1 million) in 2003 to continue development of the BIND (Biomolecular Interaction Network Database) resource, has been unable to secure additional funds once its primary grant from Genome Canada expires on June 30, Christopher Hogue, principal investigator for Blueprint, told GenomeWeb News.


"The grant is non-renewable, and we have not been able to find continued support from either the Canadian federal or provincial government to continue the project," Hogue said.


He said that the initiative has applied for a follow-on grant with Genome Canada, but the agency hasn't finished its review process yet, "and it also looks like they wouldn't have any funds available for that round until January. So there well and truly is a gap." 


Marcel Chartrand, vice president of communications for Genome Canada, said that the funding agency has just completed due diligence on its third funding round since it was launched in 2001. The Canadian Government has allocated Can$165 million for Genome Canada in its 2005 budget.


"In relative terms, it's not very much money," Chartrand said. "The demand is so large and the size of the projects - BIND and others - are multi-million dollars. We won't be able to fund more than 25 projects at the very most over that period of time."


Hogue said that Blueprint will spend the next two months "winding down" the project in Toronto and moving its curation capabilities to Blueprint Asia, the initiative's Singapore facility, which it opened last summer.


"We're continuing to look for a solution for the funding here in Ontario, but it hasn't come in time to lay off roughly half of our staff," Hogue said.


Hogue said that the initiative has just entered discussions with several provincial funding agencies, "so we're hopeful."


In the meantime, he said, "BIND will continue to operate, Mt.SinaiHospital will continue to run the servers, and curation will prevail in Singapore."


Hogue said that he has spoken to Blueprint's supporters in Singapore - which include Singapore's economic development board, the Genomics Institute of Singapore, and the National University of Singapore - about the possibility of expanding Blueprint's operations there.


In addition, Blueprint is keeping its options open. "We're happy to talk with another jurisdiction that would consider funding [the project]," he said.


Hogue said that Blueprint's development work on Science's Signal Transduction Knowledge Environment Connections Maps database, which is funded separately by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, will not be affected by the funding crisis.

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