The U.S. government is renewing its push to move genomics towards the clinic. Today the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) announced its latest 4-year genome sequencing program, funded at $416 million over 4 years. NHGRI's "flagship" sequencing program will expand beyond three huge centers and "sharpen its focus on medical applications," said NHGRI Director Eric Green in a press call today.
The big three are still on top: 77% of the money, or about $319 million, will go to these existing centers. They include the genome center at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, headed by Eric Lander, which will receive $35.9 million the first year; a center at Washington University in St. Louis, led by Richard Wilson, which received an initial $28.4 million; and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston's center directed by Richard Gibbs, which won $21.3 million. These centers were workhorses in completing the Human Genome Project, and now they will continue to sequence thousands of people's genomes. The centers are also cataloging genetic changes in human tumors together with the National Cancer Institute.
Despite ever-cheaper and faster sequencing technologies that now allow even a small lab to sequence an entire human genome, there is still a need for the big centers to explore genome biology, test out new technologies, and find better ways to analyze the data, say NHGRI officials. "We believe that large scale approaches continue to provide exciting opportunities," said NHGRI Deputy Director Mark Guyer. However, because sequencing costs continue to decline, the centers' grants will drop 5% a year.
For the first time, the sequencing program will also fund some smaller centers. Three will hunt for mutations underlying rare inherited diseases caused by a glitch in a single gene. Labs that will share $40 million over 4 years from NHGRI (and another $8 million from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute), include: a $5.2 million a year center at the University of Washington, headed by Deborah Nickerson and others; a $2.8 million a year center at Yale University, led by Richard Lifton and others; and a joint center with $4 million per year led by David Valle at the Johns Hopkins University and Baylor's James Lupski.