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First Installment of Merck Gene Index Data Released to Public Databases: Cooperative Effort Promises to Speed Scientific Understanding of the Human Genome.

WHITEHOUSE STATION, N.J.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Feb. 10, 1995-- Merck & Co., Inc., and Washington University today announced the public release of the first 15,000 expressed human gene sequences from their collaborative effort to identify cDNA clones for expressed human genes, and to make the sequence data and related physical clones broadly available for use as research tools.

This project, known as the Merck Gene Index since its inception less than five months ago, is expected to process some 300,000 human gene sequences over the next 18 months. Washington University will rapidly report the sequence data to public databases for use on an unrestricted basis by interested researchers worldwide.

"The Merck Gene Index has tremendous promise for catalyzing interdisciplinary research on the human genome," said Dr. C. Thomas Caskey, Senior Vice President, Basic Research, of the Merck Research Laboratories, and President of the Human Genome Organization. "Using the sequence information Merck is making available in collaboration with Washington University and other centers in genomics and bioinformatics, researchers will find new ways to understand gene expression, which will lead ultimately to new therapies for diseases as yet unconquered. This kind of cutting-edge science is what drew me to Merck, and what makes it such an exciting research environment."

The Merck Gene Index is a broad collaborative effort, coordinated by Dr. Alan Williamson, Vice President, Research Strategy Worldwide, and Keith O. Elliston, Associate Director, Bioinformatics, of the Merck Research Laboratories. Dr. Greg Lennon's laboratory at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (Livermore, California) has been supplying arrayed cDNA clones to Dr. Robert Waterston's laboratory (the Genome Sequencing Center) at the Washington University School of Medicine (St. Louis, Missouri) for sequencing. "Our collaborators have worked together to expedite the project, while maintaining the highest standards of quality," said Merck's Keith Elliston, "which has enabled us to make excellent progress towards providing a much needed public resource for research on the human genome."

The sequence data are being submitted to the Expressed Sequence Tag (EST) division of GenBank on a regular basis for immediate distribution. (GenBank, built and distributed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), is a central repository of publicly-available gene sequence information, widely known and heavily used by researchers in government, academe, and industry.) It is expected that about 4,000 individual sequences will be submitted to the database each week; as the operation matures, sequence submissions will be made on a daily basis. No one will have advance access to--nor can they delay or restrict the release of--any of the sequence data from Washington University. This includes Merck researchers, who will only gain access to the data via the same public databases available to all interested researchers.

According to Dr. Mark Boguski of the NCBI, the sequence information will be distributed to GenBank's international collaborators, the European Bioinformatics Institute (Cambridge, England) and the DNA Data Bank of Japan (Mishima, Japan), as well as to the National Center for Genome Resources (Sante Fe, New Mexico) and to the public within 48 hours after receipt of the data. The data, which will be available on the Internet from the NCBI's ftp ( and Worldwide Web ( servers, are free of all restrictions. Comments Dr. Francis S. Collins, Director of the National Center for Human Genome Research at the National Institutes of Health, "The release of this first installment of cDNA sequence tags into GenBank is welcome news indeed. The rate of sequence production and the fact that the information will be freely available has been greeted with much enthusiasm in the scientific community. In fact, an international consortium has already formed to initiate the important task of mapping these gene sequences to their proper locations on human chromosomes. We can now look forward expectantly to the positioning of a large proportion of the human expressed genes on the human physical map in the next two or three years, which will greatly aid the critical task of identifying genes which predispose to human illness."

The minimal set of cDNA clones representing the unique identified human genes, the index to the genome, will also be made available by appropriate commercial and non-profit organizations, as PCR products gridded onto nylon membranes, and as individual clones and sets of clones in 384-well plates in the future. These resources will then be distributed at a reasonable cost via established networks to researchers who wish to do sequencing and mapping of individual genes or sets of genes, or for any other research purpose.

Merck's decision to submit the Merck Gene Index sequence data to GenBank is consistent with the goal (announced on September 28, 1994, when these plans were first disclosed) of gaining the widest possible dissemination of this information. As Merck's Dr. Alan Williamson notes, "Merck's approach is the most efficient way to encourage progress in genomics research and its commercial applications: by giving all research workers unrestricted access to the resources of the Merck Gene Index, the probability of discovery will increase. The basic knowledge thus gained will lead ultimately to new therapeutics for a wide range of diseases--while providing opportunities--and preserving incentives--for investment in future gene-based product development." It is expected that a number of value-added database efforts by biomedical researchers around the world will also make use of the Merck-funded sequence information to facilitate genome sequencing, gene mapping, and gene expression studies.

Merck & Co., Inc., headquartered in Whitehouse Station, N.J., is a worldwide research-intensive company that discovers, develops, products, and markets human and animal health products and services. Its Medco unit is the leading pharmacy benefits management company.

Washington University School of Medicine is among the premier medical schools and research institutions in the world. The University is one of the top five recipients of research funding from the National Institutes of Health. The Genome Sequencing Center was established in August 1993 and, with a $29.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, it is sequencing the genomes of two model organisms, the nematode C. elegans and the yeast S. cerevisiae.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy, conducts research important to national goals. Current programs include national defense and controlling the spread of nuclear weapons, as well as research in energy, biomedicine, and the environment. The Laboratory also has a long-standing commitment to enhance the nation's economic competitiveness and to support education.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information is a unit of the National Library of Medicine, located on the campus of the U.S. National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

CONTACT: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Mr. Jeffrey Sketchley, 510/422-0147


National Center for Biotechnology Information/

National Library of Medicine

Mr. Robert Mehnert, 301/496-6308


Washington University School of Medicine

Ms. Linda Sage, 314/362-8253



Dr. Jeffrey L. Sturchio, 908/423-3981

or John Doorley, 908/423-4081
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Date:Feb 10, 1995

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