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Merck Quietly Abandons Genomics Grants

NEW YORK, Sept. 17 - The Merck Genome Research Institute, the pharmaceutical giant's well-publicized project to underwrite public research in genomics, has quietly closed shop.


Merck launched the charitable program in 1997 to support research into innovative tools and techniques in functional genomics, bioinformatics, and gene-based disease modeling. Since then, the program doled out some $30 million to more than 80 research projects.


Many of the grants went to public groups: MGRI handed out $6.5 million to the international mouse-sequencing consortium and $3 million for the Alliance for Cellular Signaling, a project that seeks to probe signaling proteins and understand cellular communication.


But last year, without fanfare, Merck pulled the plug. While the company will continue to support the Alliance for Cellular Signaling through 2005, company spokesperson Janet Skidmore told GenomeWeb it will no longer fund new projects.


"The decision to end the funding efforts was based on the fact that we'd already invested $30 million, and the landscape had changed," she said. "It was time to move on to other things."


Many of the grants boosted smaller projects, like the University of Oklahoma Advanced Center for Genome Technology effort to sequence Staphylococcus aureus and a Lexicon Genetics project to create 150 new knockout mice.


Merck has no plans to adopt a new philanthropic programs for external research, Skidmore said.

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