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HUPO Drums up Support for Proteome Projects; Pharma Getting on Board

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As the Human Proteome Organization geared up for its first annual congress, which is being held in Versailles this week, it announced progress on several of its initiatives.

First and foremost, HUPO has reportedly drummed up both financing and some resources for its plasma proteome and liver proteome projects. According to Sam Hanash, HUPO’s president, the organization has “received solid commitment for substantial support for the plasma project from two major pharmaceutical companies.” However, he was unable to provide the names of the companies, or the amount they have committed.

Among the large pharmas, Bristol-Myers Squibb has decided to participate in the research, but has not yet pledged financial support, while Roche has indicated interest in the project, but not committed any funding. Pfizer, which had previously expressed an interest, was unable to comment for this article.

In an e-mail interview, Hanash said that at a workshop on the human liver proteome project held in Beijing last month, representatives from China, France, and Canada “have indicated their substantial support for the project,” including a possible commitment of “some $20 million” from China. In addition, the Korean government, which has already funded liver proteome studies with $3 million over the last three years, is likely to commit more funding next summer, according to Young-Ki Paik, HUPO’s secretary general.

Pursuing the Plasma

Last week, HUPO also released a report detailing a pilot phase for the plasma proteome project. The first goal of this phase, which will start shortly after the Versailles meeting, is to characterize as many proteins as feasible in human plasma and serum, comparing a variety of technology platforms. This will include assessing the amount of technical variation, testing methods to deplete abundant plasma proteins, and establishing a database.

To date, 14 non-commercial laboratories from the US, Canada, Korea, and China have said they want to conduct studies for the project, but HUPO is hoping to sign up more at Versailles. The report also lists 21 companies that have expressed an interest in participating, although it is not clear yet whether they will provide financial support, perform research, or merely sell their equipment to participants.

According to Gilbert Omenn, who leads the project, participating labs will receive at least one plasma reference sample. The American Red Cross, he said, has already offered to provide citrated plasma. Other sources for plasma and serum, including the National Institute for Standards and Technology, are currently being considered. The labs would then use their own preferred techniques to analyze these, and maybe additional, samples. They would present their data at a workshop next year, and HUPO would try to publish the results in a special issue of a proteomics journal, Omenn said.

The main aim of this first part of the project, he said, is to assess and narrow the range of methods to a few that would be then applied to large population studies. By that time, intellectual property issues also need to be addressed: “The general view is that a lot of information will be generic,” said Omenn, “and anything that is on a path to a specific diagnostic test or therapeutic target would likely be held as proprietary.”

Besides providing labs with samples, he said, HUPO plans to create a database, possibly in collaboration with the European Bioinformatics Institute. However, HUPO cannot provide labs with funding at the moment. By approaching companies and government agencies, it intends to raise enough funds for the database, and for characterizing and sending out specimens. “If we raise enough money, we will have seed money for the participating laboratories,” Omenn said.

Many researchers agree that developing methods and standards for plasma proteome analysis is a worthwhile goal, but several potential participants are divided over whether their aims are in line with those of the initiative. “I think HUPO is going to be aiming at some very useful goals, which are: Looking at standardization, getting standard samples, and exploring technologies,” said Leigh Anderson, who recently left Large Scale Biology to found the Plasma Proteome Institute, a non-profit organization. He pointed out that there is still a lack of technologies to analyze and quantify large numbers of proteins at different concentrations. “But our interests are a little bit different from theirs; much more closely connected to the diagnostics application,” he said, indicating why his institute has not yet joined HUPO’s initiative.

Bristol-Myers Squibb, on the other hand, has decided to participate in the research, according to Stanley Hefta, the company’s executive director for proteomics. “We are doing it anyway,” he said. “It’s going to help us in the long run, and if we have access to information that has been developed in laboratories around the world, …and they have data from us, we will all be winners in the end.” However, the company has not decided on any financial support yet, he said.

Pharmas Look for Benefit

Likewise, Roche has shown interest, but not committed to any sponsorship. “It must be clear what the timeline is, what the deliverables are,” said Hanno Langen, head of the proteomics initiative at F. Hoffmann-La Roche in Switzerland. “There must be a clear benefit for the company in one way or another.” However, Langen mentioned that Roche has in the past sponsored public efforts for public relations reasons.

HUPO’s other projects are at various stages. The liver proteome project has drafted a list of scientific objectives, an “action plan,” and a timeline, based on its recent Beijing workshop, which will be discussed further at this week’s Versailles meeting. According to Paik, liver research groups around the world have been surveyed about their interest to participate in the project.

The bioinformatics initiative recently convened at the EBI in Hinxton, UK, to discuss proteomics standards (see ProteoMonitor 10-28-02). Like the technology initiative and the antibody initiative, it will be discussed at this week’s meeting.

But HUPO has already set its sights on a new project: neuroproteomics. A workshop on the topic, “Proteomics in the Neurosciences,” organized by the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), will be held on Dec. 9-10 in Washington DC.

— JK

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