After a year of extolling the value of large-scale public-private efforts in proteomics, HUPO last week appeared to hone in on the details of its preliminary initiatives. At an April 29 meeting on the NIH campus attended by about 200 scientists from industry and academia, HUPO solicited feedback on its proposals to study the plasma proteome and develop a bank of antibodies for research use, among other projects [see p. 6]. The organization also scored its first corporate sponsor, as Amersham Biosciences agreed to contribute about $500,000 to support HUPO programs.
While HUPO’s stated mission — to encourage the spread of proteomics technologies and to disseminate knowledge on the human proteome — has not changed, the circumstances surrounding its mission have. Last fall, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute issued a Request for Proposals for a program to fund multidisclipinary proteomics technology centers, the National Human Genome Research Institute issued a RFP for protein databases earlier this year, and on April 25-26, the National Cancer Institute, NHGRI, and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences assembled a panel of several dozen researchers to discuss grant programs that would apply proteomics technology to biological problems.
The increase in NIH-associated funding opportunities might seem to diminish HUPO’s mandate for encouraging proteomics research, but Sam Hanash, HUPO’s president and a researcher at the University of Michigan Medical School, claimed NIH’s efforts are compatible with and complementary to HUPO’s mission.
Rather than compete with HUPO, NIH RFPs in proteomics help the organization to refine its list of priorities, he said. “What HUPO would like to do is to develop activities for which there is a real need,” he said. “If there is a particular high-priority activity that HUPO has identified and then another agency [such as] NIH decides to put major funding into it, then we would declare success in having achieved our objective.”
BUT WOULD HUPO MERELY DUPLICATE EFFORTS...
The problem, predictably, is that not all researchers can agree on the list of proteomics activities that are needed, particularly when one compares the interests of industry and academic scientists. HUPO’s planned effort to study the proteome of plasma and serum might, for example, sound attractive to researchers in academia looking to contribute to a high profile intiative, but to some in industry such an initiative seems duplicative.
GeneProt and Large Scale Biology both claim to have mined the proteins in serum and plasma taken from healthy individuals, said Scott Patterson, Celera’s vice president for proteomics, so HUPO should try to coordinate with the companies to bring non-proprietary data into the public domain. “I’ve never understood doing things multiple times,” he said.
Norman Anderson, chief scientist at Large Scale Biology, seconded this assessment, although he left open the possibility that LSB could provide technical support to a public project, such as by supplying the columns his company has developed for removing high abundance proteins from plasma and serum.
...WITH MONEY FROM PHARMA AND BIOTECH?
But HUPO officials are optimistic about their chances for acquiring funding of their own, primarily from industry sources. In addition to Amersham’s contribution, Micromass has agreed to contribute on the order of $10,000, and Hanash said several large pharmaceutical companies and equipment suppliers have also expressed interest in making similar donations, although the timing is unclear.
Chris Spivey, a former conference organizer for Cambridge Healthtech Institute now working with HUPO, said that “almost every big pharma” had expressed willingness to fund HUPO initiatives, with initial pledges of about $250,000 each.
In contrast to a year ago, when Spivey helped organize HUPO conferences as a CHI employee, Spivey said he is no longer “hyping” the organization, but instead trying to give it a lower profile, and limit expectations as to what can be accomplished.