IBM participates in SNP Consortium to construct map of genetic diversity

Chicago 24 January 2000IBM is joining the SNP Consortium in its collaborative effort to create a public database of gene markers that will enhance understanding of the biological basis for disease. IBM will assist ten leading pharmaceutical companies, the Wellcome Trust, and Motorola Inc., in this two-year, $50 million initiative to identify and analyse genetic markers, known as single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs, pronounced as "snips".

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"IBM is a pre-eminent force in e-business and information technology applied to research. Its participation in the SNP Consortium illustrates the potential for information systems to change how research and development is performed in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries, supporting the development of significant innovative medical therapies and diagnostics", commented Arthur Holden, chairman and CEO of the SNP Consortium.

Last year, the SNP Consortium has announced its plan to construct a high-density and high-quality map of SNPs, the minute variations which occur frequently throughout the human DNA. The availability of such a map will help medical researchers pinpoint genetic differences that predispose some but not others to disease, and underlie variability in individual response to treatment. Such knowledge will permit the development of genetic-based diagnostics and therapeutics, and lead to an era of so-called personalised medicine, in which treatments will be targeted to patients' unique genetic profiles.

The Consortium intends to identify a minimum of 300.000 and map at least 150.000 SNPs by April 2001. As SNPs are mapped, they will be placed in the public domain, providing biomedical researchers all over the world with free and unrestricted access. Since November 99, the Consortium has deposited approximately 7200 newly identified and fully characterised SNPs into public databases accessible via the Internet.

In 1999, IBM formed a life sciences industry organisation, bringing together all of IBM's resources, from commercial products to industry knowledge and research, to develop solutions for pharmaceutical, biotechnology and agri-science companies. IBM has relationships with many leading pharmaceutical and life sciences companies, and also collaborates with major research and medical institutions throughout the world, including Johns Hopkins, the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children and the Whitehead Institute, an affiliate of MIT.

Last year in December, IBM announced a $100 million initiative to build a supercomputer 500 times more powerful than the world's fastest computers today. This new computer, nicknamed "Blue Gene", will be used to model the folding of human proteins. "The final product of the SNP Consortium's efforts will be tremendously important both as markers for the human genome and in delivering a far greater understanding of the genetic causes of disease", stated Daniel P. McCurdy, vice president, IBM Life Sciences. "IBM's active involvement in the SNP Consortium signals our commitment to the advancement of the pharmaceutical and biotech fields. We believe that information technology, particularly computational biology, will play a critical role in future breakthroughs in this arena."

The SNP map that is constructed will be used to conduct association studies, in which SNP patterns from a target population, like for example, patients afflicted with a particular disease, are compared with SNP patterns from unaffected populations to find genetic variations shared only by the affected group. As a result, these variations may form the basis for development of diagnostic tests as well as new therapies. However, if such an approach is to become broadly applicable to the diagnosis and treatment of disease, it will require the commercialisation of cost-effective technologies to screen massive amounts of genetic information rapidly and accurately.

The SNP Consortium is organised as a not-for-profit entity whose goal it is to create and make publicly available a high-quality SNP map of the human genome. The Consortium's members involve the Wellcome Trust; ten major pharmaceutical companies, including AstraZeneca PLC, Aventis Pharma, Bayer AG, Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, F. Hoffman-La Roche, Glaxo Wellcome PLC, Novartis, Pfizer Inc., Searle, and SmithKline Beecham PLC; Motorola, Inc.; and IBM. Academic centres including the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, Washington University School of Medicine in Saint Louis, the Wellcome Trust's Sanger Centre, Stanford Human Genome Center, and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, are equally involved in SNP identification and analysis.

IBM is the world's largest information technology company, with 80 years of leadership in helping businesses innovate. IBM recently announced a new database tool named DiscoveryLink, designed to help life sciences companies turn their massive and growing amounts of data into valuable information for drug discovery and development. IBM's Computational Biology Center (CBC), established in 1997, brings together multi-disciplinary teams of biologists, physicists, chemists, mathematicians, and computer scientists to work on various projects related to medical diagnostics, gene analysis and the creation of novel algorithms and technologies to aid in identification of biological patterns, like SNPs. IBM's Life Sciences organisation is the primary path to market for technologies developed by the CBC.


Leslie Versweyveld

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