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Salk's $300M Campaign to Fuel Genomic Medicine, Replace Waning NIH Funds

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The Salk Institute for Biological Sciences has launched a campaign to raise $300 million in private funding to support a new genomic medicine initiative, as well as new cancer, aging, and neuroscience programs.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Salk's Chair of the Board of Trustees, Irwin Jacobs, said the institute has already raised $150 million from private individuals and foundations during a quiet phase of campaign fundraising that began in 2009.

This six-year effort, the first such campaign in the institute's 53-year history, is aimed at bridging the gap left by flagging funding from the National Institutes of Health. Nine years ago, NIH funding made up two-thirds of the Salk's budget, but now it accounts for less than 50 percent, the institute said.

The Campaign for Salk will support research efforts across a wide range of the institute's missions, including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's, obesity and diabetes, spinal cord injuries, crop studies, and others.

The Genomic Medicine Initiative that Salk plans to fund will focus on research in three general areas: metabolism and physiology, cancer, and stem cells.

"This type of initiative is going to be transformative to the Salk — to the present as well as in the future," Ron Evans, a professor in the Salk Gene Expression Laboratory, said during the press briefing.

Evans said the initiative "is really underpinned by our interest in wanting to understand the nature of chronic disease and chronic illnesses ... [including] diabetes, heart disease, cancer, neurodegeneration."

"We will delve into the genome, and use cutting-edge, state-of-the-art technologies to try to understand the nature of stress, and the impact of stress on our genes, and how our bodies respond to the environment when things go wrong," Evans added.

The Genomic Medicine Initiative will create several new core facilities at Salk focused on genome sequencing, proteomics, chemical and systems biology, bioinformatics, and metabolomics, as well as a therapeutics development resource for pursuing new drug targets in preclinical and proof-of-principal trials.

The genome sequencing core facility will provide complete genomics solutions and services for use in next-generation projects involving de novo genome sequencing, targeted re-sequencing, metagenomics, transcriptome profiling, and epigenetic marker sequencing.

The bioinformatics core facility will house both genome sequencing and computing capacities, and it will host databases and biostatisticians for storing and analyzing genomic data.

The metabolomics core will provide mass spectrometers and chromatography tools and expertise for use in studies of lipids, metabolites, and metabolic pathways.

The metabolism and physiology studies will involve metabolomic profiling, studies of the aging genome, epigenetics studies of chronic inflammation and angiogenesis, and they will focus on important pathways and molecules that could be used in new treatments.

Salk's stem cell initiative will focus on identifying gene regulatory networks that control stem cell development and on determining how these genes can be manipulated to make stem cells useful as model systems or as treatments. Researchers also will perform genome sequencing-based studies of the role of DNA modification in reprogramming and generating stem cells.

Through the cancer initiative, Salk researchers will seek to define cancer genomes and the mutations involved in cancer development and disease progression — an effort that will produce knowledge that will be integrated into the stem cell and metabolomics initiatives.

"Our goals are to build on our current strengths and expand into new areas that have been opened up by the human genome sequence and by new imaging technologies," explained Tony Hunter, Salk professor of molecular and cell biology.

"We will continue to build more accurate models of human cancers, like glioblastoma and lung cancer, to study the process of metastasis, and test our ideas for new cancer drugs," Hunter said.

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