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New Regional Bioinformatics Initiatives Foster Collaboration Between Academia and Industry

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Bioinformatics companies, academic institutions, and government bodies are coming together in two separate regional efforts to promote the growth of the field.

The nearly simultaneous launch of the two initiatives ó the Washington, DC-area Bioinformatics Coalition and the Colorado-based Center for Computational Biology óindicates that industry and academia are recognizing a need to unify their efforts in order to develop effective bioinformatics technologies.

The Greater DC Bioinformatics Coalition is a commercially focused group spearheaded by McLean, Va.-based law firm Pepper Hamilton and draws heavily on the substantial base of IT companies in Virginia and bioscience companies in Maryland. The Center for Computational Biology comes from the academic side of the fence: It is primarily a research and education initiative led by the University of Colorado at Denver and the UC Health Sciences Center.

However, the programs meet in the middle when it comes to fostering industry-university relationships. The Bioinformatics Coalition counts George Mason University and George Washington University among its members, while the UC Center for Computational Biology is funded by corporate sponsors Tech-X, Genomica, and NeoCore, all based in Colorado.

 

Coalition Seeks to Mend Regional RIVALRY

 

“There’s a big rivalry between Virginia and Maryland,” said Pepper Hamilton marketing coordinator Eileen Mandell. “Because we’re three different jurisdictions in two different states, there’s some rivalries that go on between the economic development authorities.”

Mandell said that one of the primary goals of the Greater DC Bioinformatics Coalition would be “encouraging the region to grow, regardless of what side of the [Potomac] River you’re on.”

Pepper Hamilton enlisted the help of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority and Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology in launching the non-profit effort, which hopes to promote the development of bioinformatics as a vital industry in the region. Twenty-five organizations have joined so far, including Viaken Systems, the Adrenaline Group, Inova Health Systems, and VC firm Investec PMG. A dues structure has just been set in place, Mandell said. Members pay approximately $500 a year.

The coalition sponsors monthly meetings for members and is planning a conference for April 28-30, 2002.

Mandell noted that the group is quickly gaining momentum, although “we’re not getting as much support as we hoped from some of the straight bioscience companies from [Maryland].” The group is not limiting its focus to the DC area however, and Mandell said it welcomes involvement from interested groups based outside the region.

More information about the Bioinformatics Coalition is available at its website, www.bioitcoalition.com.

 

Bioinformatics Blossoms
in the Rockies

 

Harvey Greenberg, a mathematics professor at the University of Colorado at Denver and director of the UC Center for Computational Biology, sees a “tremendous” market for bioinformatics in Colorado. The state is anxious to build up its base of biotech companies and Denver recently completed construction of the 60,000-square foot Bioscience Park Center and plans to add a second unit to the park.

Greenberg described the CCB as a “matchmaker” that will arrange new collaborations between researchers from different disciplines as well as collaborations between academia and industry.

The CCB sponsors seminars and workshops and also plans to create new courses and programs in computational biology at its two member universities. In addition to the new courses, the UC Health Science Center is introducing a PhD program in bioinformatics this year and CU Denver is considering a master’s program in computational biology.

Greenberg said the center would eventually be fully self-sustaining through its industry sponsors, who pay between $10,000 and $20,000 a year. He hopes that at least ten such companies will be attracted by the collaboration opportunities the center presents. “[Sponsor] companies have access to our resource base, which is our faculty and students,” Greenberg said.

The academics also benefit from industry involvement, Greenberg said. “We want their perspective on where they see things going and what they see the needs are from a commercial point of view. We want to compare that with what research is taking place at the universities.”

In addition to the three Colorado-based sponsors, Greenberg said the center is also in sponsorship discussions with Motorola and IBM.

Further information about the CCB is available at www.cudenver. edu/ccb.

— BT

 

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