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Merck Gene Index Press Release

elliston at mbcl.rutgers.edu elliston at mbcl.rutgers.edu
Fri Feb 10 22:10:25 EST 1995

Whitehouse Station, N.J.
Dr. Jeffrey L. Sturchio--(908) 423-3981
John Doorley--(908) 423-4081



Whitehouse Station, N.J., February 10, 1995--Merck & Co., Inc., and Washington
University today announced the public release of the first 15,000 expressed
human gene sequences from their collaborative effort to identify cDNA clones
for expressed human genes, and to make the sequence data and related physical
clones broadly available for use as research tools. This project, known as the
Merck Gene Index since its inception less than five months ago, is expected to
process some 300,000 human gene sequences over the next 18 months. Washington
University will rapidly report the sequence data to public databases for use on
an unrestricted basis by interested researchers worldwide.

"The Merck Gene Index has tremendous promise for catalyzing interdisciplinary
research on the human genome," said Dr. C. Thomas Caskey, Senior Vice
President, Basic Research, of the Merck Research Laboratories, and President of
the Human Genome Organization. "Using the sequence information Merck is making
available in collaboration with Washington University and other centers in
genomics and bioinformatics, researchers will find new ways to understand gene
expression, which will lead ultimately to new therapies for diseases as yet
unconquered. This kind of cutting-edge science is what drew me to Merck, and
what makes it such an exciting research environment."

The Merck Gene Index is a broad collaborative effort, coordinated by Dr. Alan
Williamson, Vice President, Research Strategy Worldwide, and Keith O. Elliston,
Associate Director, Bioinformatics, of the Merck Research Laboratories. Dr.
Greg Lennon's laboratory at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
(Livermore, California) has been supplying arrayed cDNA clones to Dr. Robert
Waterston's laboratory (the Genome Sequencing Center) at the Washington
University School of Medicine (St. Louis, Missouri) for sequencing. "Our
collaborators have worked together to expedite the project, while maintaining
the highest standards of quality," said Merck's Keith Elliston, "which has
enabled us to make excellent progress towards providing a much needed public
resource for research on the human genome."

The sequence data are being submitted to the Expressed Sequence Tag (EST)
division of GenBank on a regular basis for immediate distribution. (GenBank,
built and distributed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information
(NCBI), is a central repository of publicly-available gene sequence
information, widely known and heavily used by researchers in government,
academe, and industry.) It is expected that about 4,000 individual sequences
will be submitted to the database each week; as the operation matures, sequence
submissions will be made on a daily basis. No one will have advance access to-
-nor can they delay or restrict the release of--any of the sequence data from
Washington University. This includes Merck researchers, who will only gain
access to the data via the same public databases available to all interested

According to Dr. Mark Boguski of the NCBI, the sequence information will be
distributed to GenBank's international collaborators, the European
Bioinformatics Institute (Cambridge, England) and the DNA Data Bank of Japan
(Mishima, Japan), as well as to the National Center for Genome Resources (Sante
Fe, New Mexico) and to the public within 48 hours after receipt of the data.
The data, which will be available on the Internet from the NCBI's ftp
(ncbi.nlm.nih.gov) and Worldwide Web (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/) servers,
are free of all restrictions. Comments Dr. Francis S. Collins, Director of the
National Center for Human Genome Research at the National Institutes of Health,
"The release of this first installment of cDNA sequence tags into GenBank is
welcome news indeed. The rate of sequence production and the fact that the
information will be freely available has been greeted with much enthusiasm in
the scientific community. In fact, an international consortium has already
formed to initiate the important task of mapping these gene sequences to their
proper locations on human chromosomes. We can now look forward expectantly to
the positioning of a large proportion of the human expressed genes on the human
physical map in the next two or three years, which will greatly aid the
critical task of identifying genes which predispose to human illness."

The minimal set of cDNA clones representing the unique identified human genes,
the index to the genome, will also be made available by appropriate commercial
and non-profit organizations, as PCR products gridded onto nylon membranes, and
as individual clones and sets of clones in 384-well plates in the future. These
resources will then be distributed at a reasonable cost via established
networks to researchers who wish to do sequencing and mapping of individual
genes or sets of genes, or for any other research purpose.

Merck's decision to submit the Merck Gene Index sequence data to GenBank is
consistent with the goal (announced on September 28, 1994, when these plans
were first disclosed) of gaining the widest possible dissemination of this
information. As Merck's Dr. Alan Williamson notes, "Merck's approach is the
most efficient way to encourage progress in genomics research and its
commercial applications: by giving all research workers unrestricted access to
the resources of the Merck Gene Index, the probability of discovery will
increase. The basic knowledge thus gained will lead ultimately to new
therapeutics for a wide range of diseases--while providing opportunities--and
preserving incentives--for investment in future gene-based product
development." It is expected that a number of value-added database efforts by
biomedical researchers around the world will also make use of the Merck- funded
sequence information to facilitate genome sequencing, gene mapping, and gene
expression studies.

Merck & Co., Inc., headquartered in Whitehouse Station, N.J., is a worldwide
research-intensive company that discovers, develops, products, and markets
human and animal health products and services. Its Medco unit is the leading
pharmacy benefits management company.

Washington University School of Medicine is among the premier medical schools
and research institutions in the world. The University is one of the top five
recipients of research funding from the National Institutes of Health. The
Genome Sequencing Center was established in August 1993 and, with a $29.7
million grant from the National Institutes of Health, it is sequencing the
genomes of two model organisms, the nematode C. elegans and the yeast S.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, managed by the University of
California for the U. S. Department of Energy, conducts research important to
national goals. Current programs include national defense and controlling the
spread of nuclear weapons, as well as research in energy, biomedicine, and the
environment. The Laboratory also has a long-standing commitment to enhance
the nation's economic competitiveness and to support education.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information is a unit of the
National Library of Medicine, located on the campus of the U.S. National
Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.


Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory:
Mr. Jeffrey Sketchley, (510) 422-0147

National Center for Biotechnology Information/National Library of Medicine
Mr. Robert Mehnert, (301) 496-6308

Washington University School of Medicine
Ms. Linda Sage, (314) 362-8253

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