BERN, SWITZERLAND--Austria, whose life-sciences researchers have tended to work in the shadows of their colleagues in neighboring Germany and Switzerland, is now making a move to attract top-flight scientists with a planned molecular bioinformatics institute in Vienna. Yesterday the Austrian Academy of Sciences announced that it is teaming up with a respected corporate shop--the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP) in Vienna--to launch a new genome research center.
The city of Vienna will build a $23 million building for the institute, to be called the Institute of Molecular and Cellular Bioinformatics (IMBA). The Austrian academy--which already operates a molecular biology institute in Salzburg--will pay IMBA's estimated $8 million annual operating costs, mainly with funding from the federal science ministry. And IMP, a basic-research institute owned by the German-based Boehringer Ingelheim drug company, will provide expertise in developing and helping operate the new center.
When the new institute opens in 2 or 3 years, academy officials say, it is likely to provide about 80 jobs for scientists in the field of human molecular and cell biology, as well as bioinformatics. IMP director Kim Nasmyth says IMBA intends to use "imaginative and innovative approaches" to help decipher the meaning of the human genome sequence as it applies to better understanding and treating diseases. Potential research areas include exploring whether cells unaffected by cancer and neurodegenerative diseases can be "reprogrammed" to help rebuild the body's immune systems, developing better methods to measure the gene expression of normal and diseased cells from human tissue, and identifying gene variations that contribute to certain diseases.
The IMP hopes that the fresh blood, and the novel research avenues they are expected to pursue, will generate ideas for projects that could help Boehringer develop new medical treatments. (No details of any licensing arrangements were released.) In a conservative country like Austria, the idea of the science academy teaming up with a corporate research institute may ruffle some professorial feathers. But Nasmyth thinks the IMBA will become "a new type of academy institute" that relies more on innovation than tradition.