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Large Genome Centers See 20 Percent Budget Cuts as NHGRI Broadens Focus on Clinical Sequencing


By Monica Heger

The National Human Genome Research Institute today announced funding allocations for its Genome Sequencing and Analysis program, which has a $416 million budget over the next four years.

As expected, funding for the Large Scale Genome Sequencing Centers was cut to $86 million per year from $110 million per year, as a portion of the program's budget has been reallocated to support the development of a Mendelian Disorders Sequencing program and a Clinical Sequencing Exploratory Research program. NHGRI also announced recipients of those grants today (see story in this week's issue of Clinical Sequencing News).

Additionally, NHGRI will provide around $20 million over four years for an Informatics Tools for High-Throughput Sequence Data Analysis program. It will announce those grant recipients in 2012.

Under the large-scale sequencing arm, NHGRI has cut funding for the Broad Institute, the Genome Institute at Washington University, and the Human Genome Sequencing Center at Baylor College of Medicine by around 20 percent.

These centers have been awarded $35.9 million, $28.4 million, and $21.3 million, respectively, for the first year of the program, with incremental decreases to the base funding for each following year. Fiscal year 2010 funding for these centers was $46.6 million, $36.5 million, and $27.3 million, respectively, according to NHGRI records.

The reduced funding is no surprise: NHGRI last year stated its intentions to redirect some funds toward sequencing programs with a clinical focus (IS 6/1/2010).

Nevertheless, the funding cuts have had an impact on the large-scale centers. The Broad Institute told In Sequence this week that it has laid off 17 staffers, effective Nov. 1, due to a "projected decrease in overall funding for sequencing-related projects."

This funding decrease is not only from NHGRI, but also from other federal and non-federal sources, the institute said.

Similarly, the Genome Institute at Washington University said in October that it would lay off 54 staffers, or around 17 percent of its workforce (IS 10/4/2011).

The Human Genome Sequencing Center at Baylor, however, will "not see any significant impact" from the grant renewal, according to Baylor's vice president of research Adam Kuspa.

While Baylor is receiving less funding under the large-scale sequencing program, it was awarded an additional $4 million per year for four years under the Mendelian sequencing program and $1.8 million per year under the Clinical Sequencing Exploratory Research program.

Neither the Broad Institute nor Wash U were awarded funding under these programs.

NHGRI grants makes up a significant portion of the genome centers' funding, including about 60 percent of Wash U's Genome Institute's funds and 49 percent of Baylor's Human Genome Sequencing Center's funds. The large scale sequencing program alone accounts for 37 percent of funding for Baylor's genome center.

Additionally, said Baylor's Kuspa, the center receives other federal and state grants as well as private grants. It also has several projects funded through the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas, which recently committed more than $3 billion over the next 10 years to cancer researchers in Texas.

On a conference call today with reporters, NHGRI deputy director Mark Guyer said that although the agency is funding more projects without an increase in total funding for the program, the "remarkable increases in sequence production" from the three centers and the falling costs of sequencing will enable "high productivity even at lower costs."

"It's not a growth in terms of total dollars, but a broadening of the research agenda," added NHGRI director Eric Green. "We're going to expand … more and more into clinical applications, and we fully anticipate a continued tremendous increase in the amount of data being generated, because with the same amount of dollars and the dropping costs of sequencing, you just simply get a lot more for even less."

Have topics you'd like to see covered by In Sequence? Contact the editor at mheger [at] genomeweb [.] com.