An unprecedented consortium of ten global pharmaceutical companies, the UK's Wellcome Trust, and five research institutes will pool their resources to draw up a $45m (£30m) map of the variations in the human genetic code, or single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). This alliance, called the SNP Consortium, also announced last week that the map will not be patented.
The SNP database will be freely available to the world's research community as it is being constructed, in order to prevent smaller companies from patenting the same genes and restricting research. Pharmaceutical companies hope that the SNP database will then be used in research that could lead to a patentable discovery, such as a new drug.
Scientists predicted that the effort would lead to the first practical benefits from the multi-billion pound International Human Genome Project. By mapping the SNPs that distinguish one individual from another, scientists will be able to understand the genetic causes of major illnesses. The SNP map could also be used to produce more effective medication, specifically designed to work with an individual's genome.
The Wellcome Trust will give $30m to the project and the SNP Consortium of pharmaceutical companies will contribute the remaining $15m. The consortium consists of the following pharmaceutical companies: AstraZeneca, Bayer, Bristol-Mayers Squibb, F. Hoffmann-La Roche, GlaxoWellcome, Hoechst Marion Roussel, Novartis, Pfizer, Searle and SmithKline Beecham. The research institutes involved are: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Sanger Centre (Cambridge, UK), Stanford Human Genome Center, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, and the Washington University of Medicine in St. Louis.
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A welcome step to genetic openness
Drug companies, gene labs to join forces