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NHGRI Selects Genome Therapeutics As First Private Human Genome Project Site

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WALTHAM, Mass.--Genome Therapeutics, the first private entity to be chosen as a US-funded center of the international Human Genome Project, will receive $15 million over the coming three years from the US National Human Genome Research Institute for work conducted at the company's GTC Sequencing Center.

A peer review board decided in favor of Genome Therapeutics after appraising its industrial-scale sequencing facility, production capacity, cost effectiveness, and quality levels. The company's sequencing center is already cooperating with the Sanger Centre to sequence regions of chromosome 10, a project with $5 million in funding guaranteed over the first 12 months.

According to Lynn Doucette-Stamm, director of genomics at Genome

Therapeutics, the company is the only commercial entity to be funded within the genome project. With the first year of the grant being mainly a production grant, there was a discussion at the institute as to whether the work could be done best in a true production setting. In this case, a focus on cost and quality was a "big advantage," she said.

Francis Collins, director of NHGRI said, "Genome Therapeutics brings tremendous commercial experience and impressive capabilities to our efforts to sequence the 3 billion bases of human DNA as soon as possible."

By the spring of 2000, the collaborative effort is projected to have produced a working draft covering at least 90 percent of the human genome sequence. That draft is expected to serve as a foundation for the next steps--closing gaps and correcting errors--which will enable a final high-quality, continuous human DNA sequence no later than 2003. The largest US participants in the project include the Whitehead Institute, Washington University, Baylor College of Medicine, and the Joint Genome Institute of the US Department of Energy.

The company was chosen for the quality, low cost, and capacity of its sequencing operations, said Doucette-Stamm. Its sequencing data was tested and validated by a number of other sequencing centers. Also, with its accelerated timeframe, the Human Genome Project needed a group that could "jump right in" and Genome Therapeutics had the infrastructure to do so, she added. "There's no time to have people building a sequencing capacity to do this type of project."

Doucette-Stamm said Genome Therapeutics expects to benefit from being a part of the project, especially because technology is shared between the sequencing centers to ensure that each one keeps pace with changes. Meetings among the centers also take place to avoid redundancies, she added.

Genome Therapeutics is well acquainted with chromosome 10, having worked on it for several years and having made physical maps while generating genetic maps of specific regions of the chromosome. As both the company and the Sanger Centre expressed interest in sequencing chromosome 10, the two will continue to work together.

--Matthew Dougherty

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