Merck joins Novartis, Pfizer on tech-enabled protein consortium with $6M buy-in

Merck Canada president Chirfi Guindo

Merck ($MRK) has joined Novartis ($NVS), Pfizer ($PFE) and a host of other Big Pharma companies in the Structural Genomics Consortium (SGC), a transatlantic public-private collaboration focused on the 3-D structures of proteins.

Kenilworth, NJ-based Merck made a C$7.5 million ($6 million) contribution to join nine of its large pharma peers on the consortium. The members enjoy several perks--notably the option to nominate targets and place scientists at SGC labs--but the work they help fund is shared publicly. SGC adds the 3-D structures it discovers to the Protein Data Bank, meaning everyone can access the information at the same time.

The work takes place at SGC laboratories housed within the universities of Oxford and Toronto. Both labs work to determine the 3-D structures of proteins using a range of tools, the sophistication of which has advanced since SGC first began in 2004. Automation, robotics and algorithms are now central to the labs' protein crystallography work. The improvements have increased output. SGC has long since passed its initial goal of modeling 386 proteins, releasing its 1,000th 3-D structure in 2010.

Merck will now have the opportunity to shape this work by proposing targets for SGC to characterize and sending its scientists to work at the labs. By tasking SGC with modeling a protein, Merck and the other members of SGC can effectively outsource an early, time-consuming step of drug discovery but in doing so make the information available publicly.

- read the release

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