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With $62.1M from Canada and UK, Toronto and Oxford Get On Structural Genomics Train

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Determining the three-dimensional structure of more than 350 proteins of relevance to human health within three years is the goal of a new Canadian-UK initiative, the “Structural Genomics Consortium.”

The initiative, announced earlier this month, is funded with $62.1 million from a number of UK and Canadian sources: £18 million ($28 million) from the UK’s Wellcome Trust, £3 million ($4.7 million) from GlaxoSmithKline, $10.2 million each from Genome Canada and the Ontario government’s Challenge Fund, $4.9 million from the Ontario Innovation Trust, and $4.1 million from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. It joins a number of existing structural genomics projects, such as the NIGMS’ Protein Structure Initiative (PSI).

The three-year clock will start ticking “after we are declared operational,” said Aled Edwards, a structural biologist and associate professor at the University of Toronto, and the director of the new consortium. Edwards was CEO of Toronto-based Affinium Pharmaceuticals from 1998 to 2000, and the company’s CSO until last year.

Gearing up, however, might take up to a year: the consortium is currently in the process of recruiting up to 100 people for each of the two research sites, the Universities of Toronto in Canada and Oxford in the UK. This will include five or six faculty members at each place, said Edwards. There is already space available in Oxford, however the University of Toronto is currently constructing two new buildings that will house the new groups.

While it is clear that the new initiative will focus on proteins with relevance to human health — most likely human and malaria proteins — the exact targets and disease areas have yet to be chosen. GlaxoSmithKline will have an input into target selection but will have no proprietary rights to the structures, Edwards said. Unlike the PSI, the consortium will not make its targets public, but like the US initiative, structures will be placed in the PDB “within weeks” of obtaining them.

Ties to the PSI and other initiatives already exist: Edwards’ group has been affiliated with two of the nine PSI centers, the Northeast Structural Genomics Consortium, led by Gaetano Montelione at Rutgers University, and the Midwest Center for Structural Genomics, headed by Andrzej Joachimiak at Argonne National Laboratory, and collaborations will continue.

Similarly, the Oxford branch will work with Structural Proteomics in Europe (SPINE), a European-wide initiative funded with €13.7 million ($14.6 million) from the EU and coordinated by David Stuart at the University of Oxford (see ProteoMonitor 11-25-02).

According to Edwards, potential overlap between the targets pursued by the different initiatives would be incidental. “We are going to avoid it as much as possible,” he said.

While most of the structures will be solved by x-ray crystallography, a few will be determined by NMR. The consortium is hoping to get access to synchrotron radiation at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in France, the Advanced Photon Source in the US, the Canadian Light Source, which is to come online next year, and Diamond in the UK, planned to be ready in 2006. The EBI in Hinxton, UK, will provide bioinformatics support to the consortium.

— JK

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