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Forming New Alliance, Dharmacon Hopes To Increase Use of Human siArray Library

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Dharmacon announced this week that it has formed the Genome-Wide RNAi Global Initiative, an alliance of international non-profit biomedical research centers that will use the company's siArray human genome siRNA library to conduct genome-wide RNAi screens to accelerate drug discovery and development.

According to William Marshall, vice president of technology and business development at Dharmacon's parent company Fisher Scientific, the initiative stems from Dharmacon's desire to see its siArray libraries in the hands of top researchers in order to "advance science and medicine, in general," using RNAi.

As researchers conducted genome-wide RNAi screens in organisms such as Drosophila, Marshall told RNAi News this week, "we began hearing … that there was a real desire to do human genome-wide screens in an unbiased way. So we created this initiative and began contacting several … investigators to see if they were interested in joining a collaborative effort."


As researchers conducted genome-wide RNAi screens in organisms such as Drosophila, Dharmacon "began hearing … that there was a real desire to do human genome-wide screens in an unbiased way. So we created this initiative and began contacting several … investigators to see if they were interested in joining a collaborative effort."

The response, he said, "has been very encouraging, almost overwhelming. There's a lot of interest in this." Among the member institutes of the initiative are: the Campbell Family Institute for Breast Cancer Research at Princess Margaret Hospital and the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital, both of which are affiliated with the University of Toronto; Cancer Research UK-funded scientists at the London Research Institute and the Institute of Cancer Research; the German Cancer Research Center; UNMC Eppley Cancer Center at the University of Nebraska Medical Center; the Netherlands Cancer Institute; the Scottish Centre for Genomic Technology and Informatics based at the University of Edinburgh Medical School; the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center; and Yale University.

Additionally, University of Cambridge scientists at the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research and MRC Cancer Cell Unit, and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center are also expected to join the initiative pending final institutional approval.

"We will continue to identify the leading-edge, non-profit institutes and add members … to the consortium as it moves along," Marshall noted.

The primary goal of the initiative is to provide a forum for member institutes to share research protocols, establish experimental standards, and develop mechanisms for exchanging and comparing screening data, Dharmacon said. Interaction between the members is expected to help optimize high-throughput, genome-wide siRNA screening and accelerate drug discovery.

"The idea is that we have this … tool [that we want to be able to] create a set of standards and controls that allow you to use [it] … in a variety of different cellular assays relevant to different disease states [in order to] derive very interesting multiplexed analyses of various diseases states with gene function," Marshall said. "Dharmacon is providing the framework" for that.

"This whole idea that you can put a consistent collection of these inhibitors into the hands of the people doing distinct studies — this is really systems biology," he said. The initiative will support "complex, multiplexed analyses across disease states with a common set of inhibitors that allow you to look at gene function across disease states. I think it's going to really reveal important insights and advance our ability to think about new drug targets and new drug entities."

Marshall said that Dharmacon is in the process of providing the initiative members with siArray libraries, but declined to comment on whether they would be provided freely or at discounted rates.

Dharmacon is also organizing the first meeting of the Genome-Wide RNAi Global Initiative in Boston on Oct. 17-18. Future meetings are expected to be held twice a year, Marshall noted.

"What we will work on at the first meeting [are things such as] common best practices for handling the libraries, common assay standardization, the implementation of appropriate controls, the robustness of the data, [and data] interpretation," Marshall said. "As the members receive their collections, I would anticipate that they would initiate screening and then be able to leverage the output of the meeting in a lot of data interpretation as well as the controls and other important aspects."

He also said that Dharmacon hopes that interaction between the initiative members will lead to an increase in collaborations using RNAi screens, as well as "joint publications, which I think would be a powerful tool and help to educate the broader populous of scientists that want to conduct screens like this."

As for whether Dharmacon will use data from the initiative members' research in the development of new products, he said that "we welcome the ability to understand the functionality on the issues that come up so that we can continue to create better products." Marshall added that Dharmacon would also be an active member of the initiative, providing an "R&D team that's able to contribute a lot in terms of doing high-throughput RNAi screens."

Aside from any insight Dharmacon may get into how to improve its products and develop new ones from the initiative, the company is undoubtedly also going to achieve greater visibility over competitors by getting its human genome-wide libraries into some of the world's top laboratories.

In terms of this benefit, Marshall said that "we're quite happy to have the response that we've gotten. I'm happy [researchers] recognize our technological leadership and are interested in applying [the company's] tools."

— Doug Macron ([email protected])

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