Seattle nonprofit lands $19.8 million for protein research

The institute collaborates with faculty and students at the University of Washington, and it has already spun out three companies.

The Institute for Systems Biology, a Seattle nonprofit research center led by gene-sequencing pioneer Dr. Leroy Hood, said yesterday it has landed a $19.8 million contract from the National Institutes of Health to advance understanding of proteomics, the study of how proteins interact in the body.

By Luke Timmerman
Seattle Times business reporter

The institute is one of 10 research centers across the country getting a total of $157 million in federal contracts over seven years for an effort to better understand the roots of disease. Other chunks of money will go to budding proteomics centers at Yale, Stanford, Boston University, Johns Hopkins and others.

In the wake of recent breakthroughs unraveling the human genetic code, proteomics is increasingly being viewed by scientists as the next step. Scientists say genes provide the instructions for making proteins, and proteins carry out the real action inside the cell.

Institute for Systems Biology

Status: Nonprofit research center
Founded: January 2000
Located: North Lake Union, Seattle
President: Dr. Leroy Hood
Employees: 170
Financial backers: Merck, National Institutes of Health, M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust

— Source: Institute for Systems Biology
Dr. Ruedi Aebersold, a co-founder of the institute and a proteomics expert, said the contract is longer than the usual three to five years, which will give the institute long-term stability and the resources to tackle more risky and ambitious goals.

The grant will enable the institute to better collaborate with researchers, including those at the University of Washington, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Amgen, he said. In particular, the institute wants to build technologies capable of handling the massive data needed to analyze proteins.

"It’s important not only because it provides substantial dollars but also because it provides us a long-term horizon," Aebersold said. Aebersold’s group at the institute is attempting to use high-speed instruments and computers to analyze thousands of proteins in action.

Scientists want to know how proteins interact and change in the body when, for example, they are produced to digest food. Proteins have historically been difficult to study because they are heavy and structurally complex chemical compounds and because they constantly are changing. In the past, scientists have attempted to study them one at a time.

The contract will clearly help shore up the institute’s finances. It will get $2 million of the contract in the first year. So far, the institute says it has snagged funding commitments worth $90 million from the federal government, industry, foundations and individual donations.

Just as with the biotech industry, fund raising for the nonprofit has been difficult.

The institute was founded in January 2000, shortly before the stock-market bubble burst. Hood’s initial goal was to raise a $200 million endowment to establish the institute’s ability to straddle the worlds of academia and industry.

The institute collaborates with faculty and students at the University of Washington, and it has already spun out three companies.

Luke Timmerman: 206-515-5644 or [email protected].

Copyright © 2002 The Seattle Times Company

Sorry, we couldn't find any posts. Please try a different search.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.