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Sigma-Aldrich Starts RNAi Partnership Program In Bid for Academic Quid Pro Quo; Rutgers Signs First

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Sigma-Aldrich this week said it established a partnership program designed to strengthen ties between the company and academic users of its RNAi and other functional genomics products, as well as boost the company's visibility in the RNAi space.

The first alliance under the so-called RNAi Partnership Program has been formed with Rutgers University, Sigma-Aldrich said.

The deal also represents the latest step in a trend among some RNAi reagent firms that want to set themselves apart from their competitors -- an important point for Sigma-Aldrich, which is a relative latecomer to the RNAi party.

According to Doug Johnson, market segment manager for functional genomics at Sigma-Aldrich, the company set up the program as "a way to develop partnerships with academic institutions."

Participants in the program will get early access to new Sigma-Aldrich technologies, and will have a dedicated support team to assist with products from the company's functional genomics product portfolio, which includes the Mission TRC shRNA libraries developed in conjunction with the Broad Institute's RNAi Consortium (see RNAi News, 4/9/2004 and 3/18/2005).


"One of the things we had heard in the past was ... people saying, 'I didn't realize Sigma provided these kinds of reagents. ... There are still a lot of people who think of us ... as [providing] chemicals first and not necessarily some of the more biotech-related products."

"We wanted to be more than just a supplier of reagents," Johnson told RNAi News this week. Additionally, Sigma-Aldrich hopes the program will educate researchers who previously hadn't thought of the company as a life sciences player.

"One of the things we had heard in the past was ... people saying, 'I didn't realize Sigma provided these kinds of reagents. I didn't know Sigma had quantitative PCR or reagents ... for proteomics,'" or any of the other tools used in gene-knockdown experiments, Johnson said. "There are still a lot of people who think of us ... as [providing] chemicals first and not necessarily some of the more biotech-related products. [The program] definitely helps us let them know about those sorts of things."

Keith Jolliff, director of strategic marketing at Sigma-Aldrich, said in a statement that the aim of the program is to "accelerate the rate at which the scientific community is able to utilize emerging RNAi technologies." But in an interview with RNAi News, Johnson noted that the company benefits, too.

The program, he said, helps Sigma-Aldrich keep its finger on "the pulse of what's happening [while] trying to let people know we want to do more than just supply the materials" for experimentation. Additionally, Sigma-Aldrich expects many of the collaborations to include a data-sharing feature that allows the company to know how its products are working, what improvements may be needed, or what new products might be of interest to the academic community.

For example, "if they've had a chance to work with a gene set that we haven't worked with yet, we can share validation information [and] get that information posted on the web so that people can know what clones to identify, which ones to use," he said. "If we get some experience from someone working in particular cell lines who has developed protocols and that sort of thing, we can readily share that information."

Johnson stressed, however, that data sharing "is not a mandatory sort of thing. It's when appropriate."

Participants in the RNAi Partnership Program will also be entitled to "special discounted pricing on all of the shRNA libraries from the TRC collection," Johnson said. "Whatever it is they need they get preferred pricing on [and] we've been setting up that pricing long-term -- it's not just a three-month thing. In some cases it goes on for a couple of years."

The first institution to try out the program is Rutgers University. Working with key labs at the university, Sigma-Aldrich struck an alliance to allow campus-wide labs to participate in the arrangement, Johnson said.

"We've worked out a partnership for the entire university so that researchers who haven't purchased from us yet ... have the opportunity to join in," he said. "So it's not just one or two labs on campus, it's everyone."

Johnson said that Sigma-Aldrich is currently in the process of educating researchers at Rutgers about how to order products and "where to find the clones and that sort of thing," adding that the company is also looking into holding seminars at the university.


The program helps Sigma-Aldrich keep its finger on "the pulse of what's happening [while] trying to let people know we want to do more than just supply the materials" for experimentation.

"What we've done for Rutgers is essentially set up a core facility for them -- that's one way to think of it," he said. Researchers "can get any clone from the [Mission TRC shRNA clone] collection as glycerol stock or a purified virus at a good price. Then, as a researcher finds out which particular constructs work for them, they can share with their colleagues or order just that one clone if they would like instead of having to order the whole target set."

In the end, Johnson said that the goal of the program is to get researchers "the materials they need at a price that works for them" -- from Sigma-Aldrich, of course. "We're trying to just-start their [RNAi research] process and let them use the technology as rapidly as possible."

Following Trends

Sigma-Aldrich's formation of its RNAi Partnership Program continues a trend among RNAi reagent firms to provide more than just items from their catalog as a way to set themselves apart from their competitors -- as especially important task for Sigma-Aldrich, which stepped onto the RNAi field relatively late in the game through its acquisition of Proligo a little more than a year ago (see RNAi News, 2/18/2005).

In October, Dharmacon announced that it had formed the Genome-Wide RNAi Global Initiative, an alliance of international non-profit biomedical research centers that will use the Fisher subsidiary's siArray human genome siRNA library to conduct genome-wide RNAi screens to accelerate drug discovery and development (see RNAi News, 10/7/2005).

Then last month, Qiagen set up the High-Throughput RNAi User Forum, an initiative designed to help researchers design and run RNAi-based screening experiments (see RNAi News, 3/30/2006).

-- Doug Macron ([email protected])

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