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Motorola Becomes First Technology Co. to Join SNP Consortium, Antes Up $3 Million

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CHICAGO--Last week Motorola became the first technology company to join the SNP Consortium. The group behind the two-year, $48 million initiative to develop a public database of single-nucleotide polymorphisms had, until now, consisted of 10 major pharmaceutical companies and the Wellcome Trust. As the news indicates, membership is not restricted to pharmaceutical companies or endowments, but a $3 million contribution to the consortium is required, Arthur Holden, the consortium's chairman and CEO, told BioInform.

While it made its name in the wireless communication, semiconductor, and advanced electronics systems industries, Motorola formally broke into genomics last year when it formed a BioChip Systems unit to develop advanced computer chips and systems for performing and analyzing biochemical reactions. Since then, it has formed partnerships with Argonne National Laboratory, Clinical Micro Sensors, Genometrix, Orchid Biocomputer, Packard Instruments, and Rockefeller University.

Nicholas Naclerio, vice-president and general manager of Motorola BioChip Systems, said that the consortium will lead to the discovery of information needed by medical
researchers and pharmaceutical industry scientists to increase understanding of disease and treatments. "Motorola BCS plans to further these efforts through the development of total systems and technologies that will improve the capacity to analyze genetic information and make practical the applications of this knowledge," he added.

According to Holden, Motorola chose to join the group because, as the company builds a capability to score and type SNPs, it is interested in having a clear set of them in a "high quality representative map." The company also agreed with the rest of the cooperative that the information should be made publicly available and not tied up in patents that would prevent researchers from accessing it. Ultimately, this approach "is going to create not only better commercial opportunities for everybody, but more innovation because you're going to have more researchers and more environments that can freely use them," Holden said.

Allen Roses, vice-president and worldwide director of genetics at Glaxo Wellcome, said, "Motorola is a company that has applied its core competencies to lead many industries to realize their full potential. Technology to read the SNP map substantially strengthens this initiative, and underscores the evolution of high density SNP mapping to become a widely accepted research tool."

Motorola is accomplished in the area of creating small, effective, diagnostic electronic products--a skill set that is going to be needed to enable practitioners to apply SNP information to prescribing drugs or to understanding what the underlying cause of a disease is, observed Holden. "You can't have something in an abstract database that no one can access, you've got to have things that can be used at the patient bedside," he said. "Motorola's capability as a world-class developer, manufacturer, and marketer of electronic products certainly puts it in a formidable position to compete in that space."

He sketched out what pieces are needed before this "pharmacogenomic and genetic" era can begin:

• A comprehensive array of quality genetic markers--both within and outside coded regions;

• Understanding of the allele frequency of those markers or how these alleles vary across major population groups;

• High-throughput genotyping to be able to score the markers cost-effectively and quickly across reasonable population samples, which is what Motorola will focus on;

• High-performance computing capability and bioinformatics to process all the data, associations, and relationships--once those have been gathered and determined; and,

• Patient DNA, clinical data sets, genetic counseling, and education programs.

While Motorola is the first technology company to join, and similar companies are expected to follow suit, membership in the consortium was never limited to pharmaceutical companies. It just happened that big pharmas had a strong interest and were "most unified" around the goal, said Holden. He conceded that the $3 million entry fee--applied directly to increase the size and scale of the SNP map being generated--can be a barrier to smaller outfits, such as biotechnology companies where a sum of that size is hard to come by. To satisfy antitrust laws and to be fair, the consortium decided that each participant had to pay the same fee, he explained.

However, in Holden's view, no one is really left out because early access to the information will not be permitted. Being part of the consortium allows a constituent to participate from a management and financial perspective, but "all parties--whether they're inside or outside of the consortium--will get access to these data," he added. The first data release, which will be about 3,000-3,500 SNPs and is scheduled for the end of the month, will mark the launch of the consortium's publicly available SNP database.

--Matthew Dougherty

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