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Novartis New Institute for Biomedical Research to Expand Co. s Proteomics Efforts

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Basel, Switzerland-based Novartis announced last week that it would spend $250 million to establish the Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research in a 255,000-square-foot, wetlab-ready facility on the MIT campus in Cambridge, Mass. The facility will house at least 400 scientists when it is ready for occupation in the first quarter of 2003.

Paul Herrling, head of corporate research, said that “proteomics is a key element of the technologies we are exploiting and setting up” at the institute, but that the Cambridge facility will rely on GeneProt’s new New Jersey operation for high-throughput protein analysis. “The results coming out of [GeneProt] will come through all of our research centers and be further analyzed [in Cambridge],” Herrling said. “We will obviously have our own mass specs in house,” he added, “but the high-throughput component has been outsourced to GeneProt.”

Dalia Cohen, global head of functional genomics for Novartis, who divides her time between Summit, NJ, Basel, and now Cambridge, told ProteoMonitor that there are “several plans to expand [Novartis’] functional genomics capacity in Cambridge,” and that proteomics would clearly be an important part of the new facility’s mission, but that she has yet to make specific decisions about proteomics staffing or equipment purchases. Cohen said she met last week to discuss some of these issues with Mark Fishman, the Harvard researcher and world-renowned zebra fish genetics expert who was chosen to preside over the new institute.

Presently, Novartis’ 22-person proteomics staff, which represents one-fifth of the entire functional genomics department that Cohen leads, is housed in Basel under the direction of Jan van Oostrum. The unit, which is focused on protein-protein interaction identification, differential protein expression, and post-translational modification analysis, will “for the moment stay the way it is,” Cohen said.

“Of course there are a lot of discussions about how this department will extend its capacity in Cambridge,” Cohen said. “It is too early to answer questions. We have to decide whether we will enhance the [proteomics] group in Basel or enhance it in Cambridge,” she said.

— AJB

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