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Canada Launches Gene Sequencing Center

Canada will wade back into large-scale human genomics research next year with the opening of a new gene-sequencing center in Vancouver, British Columbia, devoted to the study of cancerous tumors.

The center, to be directed by University of British Columbia (UBC) chemist Michael Smith, a Nobel laureate, is being launched with $7.5 million from the UBC Cancer Agency for sequencing equipment, renovations, and other startup costs. Still to be raised from private and public sources is an annual operating budget of $3 million. Smith says the center will likely start out by concentrating on the messenger RNA associated with breast, prostate, colon, and lung tumors in a search for "better diagnostics and therapies for cancer." But it's ultimately hoped the center will be able to contribute to the international human genome project, mouse genome sequencing, and perhaps projects of interest to agriculture and silviculture industries, if they decide to contribute.

Another hope for the center, says Smith, is that it will resurrect national interest in genomics and spur the federal government to restore funding for a national genome program that was severely curtailed last year (Science, 16 August 1996, p. 867). "If we want to have an identity, politically and culturally, intellectually, we have to try and compete [with the U.S.], at least on a pro-rated basis," says Smith.

Victor Ling, research vice-president for the UBC Cancer Agency, says the center will open shop next summer in a renovated agency building and become fully operational within 2 years, with a staff of 30 to 40. It eventually hopes to sequence several million base pairs annually.