Broad Institute set to swell psychiatric databases using $650M gift

Broad Institute HQ--Courtesy of the Broad Institute

The psychiatric sector received a big boost this week when the Broad Institute was given $650 million to investigate the genetic causes of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. And the impact of the work is set to extend far beyond Cambridge, with Broad making the data available to researchers around the world.

Broad Institute director Eric Lander confirmed that the project would follow the data-sharing model the research center put in place during the Human Genome Project. "We are fully depositing these data in the appropriate databases that allow bona fide researchers to use those data anywhere in the world subject to the protection of patient privacy," Lander said at a conference to discuss the news. "We know all the discoveries aren't going to be made here at the Broad." The panel also discussed the sharing of software to analyze the data.

The combination of sequencing advances--Broad was an early buyer of Illumina's ($ILMN) HiSeq X Ten--the $650 million donation from philanthropist Ted Stanley and the data-sharing policy means the institute is set to add significant amounts of information to psychiatric databases. An example of the type of data Broad could generate was published in Nature on the day of the announcement. The paper links 100 sites on the human genome with the risk of developing schizophrenia. Understanding the genetic causes of schizophrenia could revitalize stagnant drug development pipelines.

Broad is talking to drugmakers about its advances and the potential for the $650 million donation to suggest new targets. The expectation is that as understanding of psychiatric disorders grows, R&D investment will return. "The pharmaceutical companies, who left this field because they didn't have anything concrete to work on, are now beginning to put their toes in the water. And I'll think they'll be jumping back in the water because there's something they can do," Lander said.

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