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Incyte To Join Human Genome Project Via Univ. Of Washington

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PALO ALTO, Calif.--Incyte Pharmaceuticals is about to join the government's human genome sequencing project through a collaboration with the University of Washington in Seattle. The university's sequencing effort, led by Maynard Olson, professor of genetics, molecular biotechnology, and medicine, was recently awarded a three-year, $20 million grant by the US National Human Genome Research Institute, with $7 million of that to be awarded immediately.

As part of the grant, $3 million was budgeted for sequencing services to be provided by Incyte to the university. Those funds are restricted until NHGRI reviews the yet-to-be-determined final terms of the contract between the institution and the company, according to institute documents.

The university's grant was just one of three new awards made to Human Genome Project collaborators. Stanford University won more than $9 million over a three-year period and Genome Therapeutics, the first company to receive a direct grant for the project (see BioInform's July 19 issue), won $15 million for the same period. Awards for the three entities scheduled through 2002 are subject to availability of funds and satisfactory project progress. Other institutions with NHGRI grants for human genome sequencing are Baylor College of Medicine, Washington University in St. Louis, and the Whitehead Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

All participants have agreed to post raw DNA information within 24 hours of assembly and not to patent such data. Also, finished mapping and sequence data must be publicly available within six months of the time they are verified, the grant papers stated.

Randy Scott, president and chief scientific officer at Incyte, told BioInform that the collaboration between his company and University of Washington grew out of past discussions about how the two entities could work together. Scott said he believes Incyte's sequencing capabilities will help push the project along "quite a bit." He added, "It's a rather small step, but nonetheless, I think it's significant for the Human Genome Project to allow a contract through an independent source."

Still, Scott indicated that Incyte would have preferred to have been assigned an even larger role in which it contributed more of its sequencing capacity. "This is a new step for the Human Genome Project to work with a commercial enterprise and they seem to be wanting to move cautiously," he remarked.

Olson's grant application, which allotted $3 million for Incyte's expected sequencing work, is just an estimate until the contract is finalized, explained Scott. He doesn't know when the agreement between the two will be official, but said he expects it to be soon, considering both sides' eagerness to get started.

In other news, Incyte recently announced that it will integrate public human genome project data into its LifeSeq Gold database. The data will become available in an updated version later this year. Scott said the product enhancement is completely independent of the company's relationship with University of Washington.

While Incyte has traditionally incorporated public domain, expressed-sequence tag data into LifeSeq, this is the first time it has done so with information from the Human Genome Project. "With the move into broader human genome sequencing now and the amount of information that's coming across, it was an appropriate addition to our portfolio to start letting human genome sequence data into LifeSeq Gold," commented Scott. The upgraded LifeSeq Gold will be the first commercially available database to merge both cDNA and genomic sequence data into a single view of the full human genome, Incyte claimed.

Scott elaborated that the company views itself in some respects as a data management company that helps to manage public domain information for private sources, not unlike companies such as Bloomberg that provide financial information to the investment community. As data management becomes an ever larger burden with new information releases, Scott said Incyte hopes to be called upon to help.

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