MUNICH--Germany's top research organization, the Max Planck Society, took a leap in the dark this week when it inked a multimillion dollar deal to form a joint institute with one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies. GlaxoSmithKline will establish a new Genetic Research Center on the campus of the Munich-based Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, dedicated to finding genetic links to common diseases.
GlaxoSmithKline will buy and install the sequencing machines and computers needed to process genetic data from patients, will pay rent for the center's lab space, and will employ the technical staff. The Max Planck Institute, in turn, will provide clinical data and scientific expertise on collaborative projects. Institute scientists will have access to 15% of the center's sequencing and data-crunching capacity for independent projects. Such a close alliance with big pharma is a first for the organization, but it mirrors a trend in Germany. The Max Planck Society has been aggressively establishing new biotech spin-offs on or near its campuses.
GlaxoSmithKline hopes to tap into the huge repository of patient tissue samples and clinical data available through the institute's scientists and doctors, while Max Planck scientists hunger for the advanced sequencing and computing power to be installed by GlaxoSmithKline. Max Planck scientists will retain the right to patent any discoveries from projects they initiate, but GlaxoSmithKline will have first refusal on whether to license them from the Max Planck Society.
The center will focus on finding patterns of genetic variations in patients with a variety of common diseases. The first target will be unipolar depression. It's a tall task, says Kenneth Kidd of Yale University School of Medicine, who is not involved in the project. Although having a family member with depression is a risk factor for the disorder, no one has been able to pin down any of the genes that play a role in this complex disorder.
While Max Planck scientists will focus on central nervous system diseases, GlaxoSmithKline will also join up with scientists at other institutions--each of whom will have to negotiate their own deal regarding intellectual property rights--to investigate a range of diseases.