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Agreement Streamlines New TSRI-GNF Collaborations

By Madeline McCurry-Schmidt and Mika Ono

A new agreement with the Genomic Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation (GNF) makes it easier for scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) to collaborate with GNF scientists to advance biomedical discovery with industrial-scale equipment, specialized expertise and other resources from the pharmaceutical world.

Located across the street from TSRI’s La Jolla campus, GNF houses more than 500 scientists in fields such as oncology, regenerative medicine, metabolism, infectious disease and immune regulation.

In a February 25 lecture introduced by TSRI President and CEO Michael Marletta and attended by dozens of TSRI faculty, GNF Director H. Martin Seidel invited TSRI scientists to submit proposals for collaborations.

“Any problem is open to us,” said Seidel. “We’re willing to tackle anything where someone has a good idea.”

What GNF Has to Offer

In his lecture, Seidel described GNF’s philosophy, capabilities and notable success stories.

Seidel explained that the research institute was launched by Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis in 1999 to catalyze new ideas. At GNF, biologists, chemists and engineers aim to apply technology and multidisciplinary expertise to drive new biological insight.  Seidel pointed out the title of his talk, “Accelerating the Pace of Discovery,” reflects GNF’s emphasis on building better tools to produce results faster.

The engineering team at GNF, for example, designs robotic systems to speed up small molecule and genomic screening and also designs equipment that make possible new techniques. “The engineers really focus on trying to make instruments that we can’t buy on the market,” Seidel said.

As Seidel described, GNF’s approach has led to advanced drug candidates for malaria, blood disease, cartilage repair and cancer.

Another recent success story involved Ardem Patapoutian, professor and member of the Dorris Neuroscience Center at TSRI and investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, who researches mechanosensation, the process that transforms external stimuli into neural impulses. He thought perhaps GNF could help him study how the cell surface responds to pressure.

Using traditional methods, a postdoc in Patapoutian’s lab could only process 72 assays (tests) per year. But, thanks to a collaboration with GNF, the team developed a robotic system to apply pressure to cells—which now processes 384 assays per minute. Seidel called the new method an “ingenious solution.”

A Win-Win for Researchers

Patapoutian, now the official TSRI liaison to GNF, said the new agreement makes it simpler for other TSRI researchers to approach GNF with their own research ideas. “This is a big opportunity,” he said.

The agreement is an in-kind deal, not a sponsorship, and Seidel hopes GNF researchers will learn from TSRI experts.

“I think what GNF cannot afford is to have a group of 30 people—like an academic lab—focus on one question for 10 years and become total experts in it,” said Patapoutian. “That’s the huge draw, I think, from the GNF side.”

The agreement also lays out joint intellectual property terms in advance. “There are no negotiations required,” said Seidel. He added any proposal must ultimately have an internal GNF sponsor to be accepted, but a sponsor is not necessary before a proposal is submitted.

Patapoutian is currently vetting short proposals from TSRI researchers interested in working with GNF. If an initial idea is approved, TSRI scientists will write a more formal proposal. To start the process, email Patapoutian at ardem@scripps.edu and copy Angela Glenn at aglenn@scripps.edu on the email. To learn more about GNF, visit gnf.org.





Send comments to: press[at]scripps.edu



siedel group
GNF Director Martin Seidel (center) poses with TSRI Professor Ardem Patapoutian (left) and President and CEO Michael Marletta at a lecture kicking off the new GNF-TSRI agreement. (Photo by Cindy Brauer.)