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IGSP looks to RTP for collaboration

With its new director settling in, construction nearing completion on the second of two major buildings and hiring forging ahead, the new Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy is now looking to build a partnership with a mainstay in the area-the Research Triangle Park.

Home to various biotech companies, RTP provides a body of professionals from different backgrounds with whom IGSP officials hope to collaborate.

"For the IGSP to do what we want to do, we have to work partly with the outside world," said IGSP Director Huntington Willard, who arrived this winter. "One of the major points of this is companies within RTP."

In the past, the University has benefited from a strong relationship with nearby biotech companies, and researchers feel the development of the genome institute will only strengthen this connection.

"The ideal is to link together groups of individuals who have different expertise to come up with a single focus that will lead to new approaches to develop therapeutics," said Dr. Don Rockey, director of Duke's Liver Center. Rockey has worked with GlaxoSmithKline, the RTP pharmaceutical giant, to research liver disease, hepatitis C and liver fibrosis.

Biotech leaders agreed that collaboration with the University offers their firms unique research opportunities.

"We are able to access experienced individuals in the area of medical research much more quickly, and gain insight through their expertise," said Tim Wilson, Glaxo's director of high throughput chemistry. "It always helps to have a close relationship with local academic research centers."

The proximity of RTP to Duke provides the potential to conduct research that could not be accomplished at one place alone, and helps in funding projects and granting access to the latest technological advances.

Donald McDonnell, a professor of cancer biology in the department of pharmacology, collaborated several years ago with Glaxo to discover a new method of using anti-estrogen treatment for breast cancer patients.

"Glaxo provided a library of compounds to test for effectiveness, a resource [that would have otherwise been unavailable]," McDonnell said. "Within only one month, a compound for a new drug was found."

Lately, another Duke-Triangle connection has received widespread media attention, as the Food and Drug Administration recently approved a new AIDS drug called Fuzeon, which was developed by Trimeris, a Triangle company started by Duke physicians.

Although much of the collaboration between IGSP and RTP is still in its infancy, officials already note that the institute--which is composed of five centers that bring together various existing departments--has a promising future.

"There is more of a collaboration now that IGSP is operating as an institute," said Joseph Nevins, James B. Duke professor of molecular genetics and microbiology. "Now, with a director, the development of programs can happen very fast."

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