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Proteomics Glaxo, Canadian Labs Build Bridge for fruit flies

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Who ever suggested that academic genomics researchers have an aversion to public/private cooperation? The Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the University of Toronto have teamed up with GlaxoSmithKline on a two-year proteomics project led by UT’s Henry Krause.

Krause and Al Edwards pitched the idea to GSK last fall, and the company agreed to fund the project at the end of the year. Krause’s particular project works with model organisms — mainly Drosophila — to look at nuclear receptors and work toward identifying ligands. The goal is to start with the fruit fly, where only one of its 20 or so receptors is known, and build up to humans, where about a quarter of the approximately 70 are known. Krause and his group have put protein tags on all the fly receptors. “Then we’ll disrupt the cells and the tissues,” Krause says, and use chromatography and mass spec “to identify associated cofactors and small-molecule regulators.” The ultimate goal is to identify the ligands, which would enable pharmas to develop drugs to precisely target each receptor.

Working with GSK, of course, is a little different from the pure academic environment. Krause keeps the company updated on projects, progress, and methods. “Basically, they have first right of refusal on a lot of it,” he says. GSK can also postpone publication for a short time and can co-patent any technology developed during the study.

So far, the cooperation hasn’t been quite what Krause expected. “I’ve heard some bad stories about collaborations with big pharma,” he says. So he’s been surprised at what he calls the “amazing synergistic interaction” with the company. “It’s allowed both of us to do things that we would never be able to do.”

— Meredith Salisbury

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