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Institute for Systems Biology Eyes Expanded Mass Spec, Computational Staff in New HQ

By Alex Philippidis

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) — The Institute for Systems Biology says the move to an expanded headquarters planned for April 2011 will enable it to grow its proteomics core facilities, while ensuring that all of its cores and facilities can effectively carry out the numerous collaborative research projects planned over the next decade.

At more than twice the space of its current headquarters, the 140,000-square-foot former Merck/Rosetta Inpharmatics building, at 401 Terry Ave. N. in the city's South Lake Union section, will allow ISB to expand its proteomics core group, which includes mass spectrometry analysis and computation, David Galas, the institute's senior vice president for strategic partnerships, told GenomeWeb Daily News.

"The proteomics core will probably have the majority of the core facility space" in the new facility, Galas said. "The cores will actually be a larger fraction of space than we have now, but the mix will shift dramatically over the next five years" from that of the current HQ.

As a result of the added space, the proteomics core could add to its current count of about 10 mass spectrometers — but that decision will depend on how much the new machines improve in throughput over current ones, he said.

"If the throughput stays where it is now, we'll probably need more than 15 mass specs to do the work we anticipate over the next few years. But if the throughput increases, we'll just modernize and turn over some of the older ones, and increase the technology rather than the numbers," Galas said.

The anticipated work includes developing mass spec assays for 22,000 human proteins, research being carried out by ISB Co-Founder and President Leroy Hood and Robert Moritz, ISB associate professor and proteomics director. Agilent donated four mass spectrometers for the project, which has been funded by NIH.

More certain, Galas said, is that ISB will also need to increase the computational component of its proteomics group since it plans to roughly double its computational staff, which now numbers about 80, to about 150.

The additional people could be accommodated in the new HQ much better than at the already-crowded current 65,000-square-foot headquarters, Galas said.

Those hires are part of the staff growth ISB anticipates over the next decade — during which its workforce, now at more than 300 people, is expected to grow to more than 330 by the time of the move next year, and nearly 500 within 10 years. Within that spurt, the number of senior scientists would double from about 30 to about 60, while the number of faculty members would rise to 20 from the current 13, Galas said.

ISB's newest faculty member, systems genetics pioneer Joseph Nadeau, is set to join the institute Friday as director of research and academic affairs, a newly-created position. Since 2003, he has served as the James H. Jewel Professor and Chair of the Genetics Department at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, which he joined in 1996.

The hiring plans come as ISB looks to carry out numerous collaborations in coming years — including the two-year-old, $200 million initiative launched by Luxembourg with help from ISB and two other US institutes; the P4 Medicine Institute established by ISB and The Ohio State University Medical Center; and a collaboration with Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease, and Complete Genomics to use whole-genome sequencing of families to search for drug targets in Huntington's disease.

"Without this move, we would start getting encumbered, and we'd have trouble fulfilling our obligations for these collaborations. With this move, we'll be able to do them easily," Galas said. All of those are going to require an increase in the numbers of people and in space

Also set to grow in the new headquarters:

• The vivarium, which "is going to more than double" in the new headquarters from the current 3,000 square feet. With Nadeau now on board, ISB needs to expand the facility, Galas said.

• The institute's recently-created microfluidics core, including its manufacturing facility.

• And ISB's meeting and conference space: "If we grow to 500 or 600 people, it would be great to have a place where we could all get together.

Because ISB has outgrown its current headquarters, he said, "If you don't book a conference room a couple of days ahead, chances are you're not going to be able to have a meeting. It is kind of silly when you're in your own building."

Not likely to change much in the new facility is the space needed for the genomics core and for sequencing, even with plans to add more genome sequencing machines. The sequencing center would remain at about 500 square feet, same as the current HQ, since a lot of that work is now outsourced.

ISB — which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year — expects it will need "somewhere in the range of $10 million to $12 million if we did everything up front" to complete its move and renovate the new headquarters to its needs. Exactly how much will be spent by the time of the move, Galas said, will depend on how much in funds the institute can win in federal grants, which in turn will determine how much it will need to raise from a philanthropic campaign being planned to support the move.

"If we just do the things that are necessary for the next couple of years, it will be substantially less," Galas said.

The move, announced last week, will bring ISB into a building easily accessible by mass transit, namely the Seattle Streetcar's South Lake Union line, and within walking distance of several employers that focus on or fund life sciences research — such as the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle Biomedical Research Institute or Seattle BioMed, the University of Washington’s South Lake Union campus, and the headquarters now being built for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Transit accessibility and proximity to other research centers were among factors that attracted ISB to the Merck/Rosetta building, as well as its size and the relatively small amount of renovation work needed there.

"What it would take to turn it into a facility of the kind we need, with several cores and mixed computation and wet lab space and vivarium and so forth, all of those things are readily available, almost the way we want it. It will require a little renovation, but not a whole lot. And the space is such that for the foreseeable future, the next 10 years, it's going to be plenty big for us," Galas said.

The existing labs, he added, "are in great shape. We don’t need to do anything there."

Less decisive a factor in the decision to move to its new site, he added, was the construction by Amazon.com of its new headquarters across the street from ISB's new home. But the institute, he added, could benefit from the convenience of its proximity to the online selling giant.

ISB is talking to Amazon about possibly storing data with it. "It would be real easy to run an optical link between the places," Galas said, though ISB's bandwidth issues would need to be addressed.

The institute is evaluating whether it should increase space for its common computational core lab to store a ballooning amount of data, since the cost of computer clusters is getting smaller, more powerful, and cheaper — or instead store it off-site or through a cloud computing system.

"We have a huge problem, in that with our effort in genome sequencing, we're probably going to have just by the end of this year probably 120 individual human genome sequences done in our own research," creating 2 terabytes of initial read data for each of them just by the end of this year, Galas said.

That data, he said, is expected to increase 10-fold in the next couple of years, requiring close to 500 terabytes of storage space just for genome sequencing — not counting images of the genomes.

"The question is: How to store that data? What do we need to store? What do we need to keep? What are we going to do internally versus externally?" Galas said. "That's in flux, and we're really in the mode of evaluating new data storage and computational capabilities."

Hood — who is also a co-founder of Rosetta Inpharmatics — first told GWDN in February the institute's interest in consolidating its laboratories and offices within a single expanded headquarters.

In addition to the current HQ, ISB now leases 16,000 square feet of space at a separate building nearby for many of its administrators and its education group.

"Being able to bring everybody together will, I think, help unify us and make us function a whole lot better," Galas said.

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