Proteomics Group Maps out Goals

Jocelyn is a staff writer for Science magazine.

A new group hoping to spur a global effort to determine the structure and function of all human proteins kicked into gear 29 April. The Human Proteome Organization (HUPO), an international alliance of industry, academic, and government members, laid out its first set of initiatives and has begun knocking on industry doors for funding.

HUPO was formed about a year ago by a group of scientists who wanted to make sure companies don't lock up basic proteomics data as trade secrets (Science, 7 December 2001, p. 2074). The founders also wanted to include as many countries in the effort as possible. After an initial meeting last fall, HUPO participants this week fleshed out five initial projects. "We want to nail down specific initiatives" so companies will be interested in contributing funding, says HUPO president Sam Hanash, an oncologist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

The list is a mix of technology, tools, and research. For example, HUPO's bioinformatics plan would develop community-wide standards for presenting mass spectrometry and protein-protein interaction data. Another initiative would create a collection of antibodies for the primary proteins made by the 30,000 or more human genes. HUPO also wants to identify thousands of other proteins present in small amounts in blood, a goal that would be of great value to companies developing diagnostic tests. All the data would be freely available through public databases. Pieces of these projects are already under way.

HUPO still needs to raise a lot more money--tens of millions, at least. "These are not small projects," says HUPO treasurer Emanuel Petricoin III of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. HUPO's goal is to nail down commitments from companies and then get matching government funds, he says. Some companies have already chipped in a few million dollars. They include Amersham Biosciences, whose proteomics marketing director Günter Thesseling says the freely available results of HUPO projects, such as antibodies, "will be the basis for huge numbers of new inventions."

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