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SNP Genotyping NIH launches genotype programs; Affy, Pfizer contribute

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Only six weeks into the year, the National Institutes of Health and its parent agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, announced the creation of two related research initiatives to accelerate research on the genetic roots of common diseases. Funding for one will come out of the coffers of the US President’s budget, while the other is set to receive financial pledges from Affymetrix and Pfizer.

The Genes and Environment Initiative, championed by HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt and set to receive $68 million from the FY 2007 budget, aims to elucidate the causal interplay between common diseases, genes, and environmental cues. If approved by Congress, GEI’s funding will commence in 2007 and continue for several years.

GEI will marry technology development and genotyping studies in an effort to evaluate how cues in the environment interact with specific genotypes to cause disease. “Given the recent advances in biomedical research, this is the right time to take on this challenge,” says David Schwartz, part of GEI’s coordinating committee. Of the project’s proposed first-year funding, $26 million will go to genetic analysis and $14 million will funnel into the development of new environmental monitoring tools.

The three-year Genetic Association Information Network brings together Pfizer, Affymetrix, and the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health in a public-private partnership that will employ whole-genome association studies to uncover genetic contributions to seven common diseases. Pfizer will provide genotyping services through its partnership with Perlegen Sciences.

The Foundation for NIH will manage this initiative with help from NIH and Pfizer scientists, as well as other experts. Pfizer has committed $5 million to setting up the network, and it promises $15 million more to support lab studies of the first five diseases. Affymetrix is set to contribute about $6 million more to characterize two more diseases. Altogether, the GAIN partnership hopes to corral $60 million in private funding for additional studies and welcomes interested partners in industry.

Elias Zerhouni estimates that an investment of $3 million to $6 million will be needed for the first stage of genotyping for each study cohort of 1,000 to 2,000 patients. Investigators and research centers are invited to submit applications to have free genotyping performed on extant samples from patients with specific diseases in case-control studies.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information at the National Library of Medicine will be custodian of the resulting data, making it available to qualified investigators in a public domain database that has been beta-tested to handle a diverse array of information. All quality-control tested genotyping data will be available through the SNP Database.

Other GAIN participants include Abbott Laboratories as well as the National Human Genome Research Institute and several other NIH centers. A peer review committee and technical advisory board are in place to provide additional scientific oversight of the project.

— Jen Crebs

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