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Firm Launches Large-Scale Gene Project on Internet

Research: Volunteers will be solicited in a drive to collect DNA samples of 100,000 donors.

August 01, 2000|MAY WONG | ASSOCIATED PRESS

SAN JOSE — DNA Sciences Inc. is banking on the Internet's vast reach to give it a strategic edge in the crowded field of genetic research.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company today is launching a large-scale gene research project that uses the Internet to collect medical information from willing donors, healthy and ill.

Using this information, DNA Sciences will determine which donors fit into various patient profiles for 20 common diseases the company wishes to study. Blood samples will be taken and the samples will be used to determine gene variations that could lead to better drugs and treatments for the diseases. The donors will not be paid.

Using a Web site to solicit donors is a creative approach to gathering genetic and medical information, scientists say.

"This is not a novel concept, but it's definitely the most broad-based approach I've heard of," said Huntington Willard, board president-elect of the American Society of Human Genetics.

Thousands of scientists now armed with the "rough-draft" gene sequences of all 46 human chromosomes, released in June by the government's Human Genome Project, are working feverishly to unleash new ways to diagnose and possibly cure diseases.

But unlike other efforts, the so-called Gene Trust Project by DNA Sciences appeals directly to the general public via its Web site (http://www.dna.com), bypassing the usually more specific recruitment programs used by universities, hospitals or pharmaceutical companies for clinical trials.

DNA Sciences, founded in May 1998, hopes to collect the DNA samples of at least 100,000 people willing to participate in four-year studies. Initial research efforts will focus on Type II diabetes, coronary artery disease, asthma, multiple sclerosis and breast cancer, and will later expand to a total of 20 common diseases.

Donors participate by completing a confidential personal and family health profile. If their profile matches what is needed for a current research project, the consumer will be asked to donate a blood sample, which will be collected by an independent, qualified health professional.

DNA Sciences, which is privately held, plans to sell their knowledge of discovered gene variations later to universities, health maintenance organizations, pharmaceutical companies and possibly medical insurance companies.

The company is backed by the Soros Fund, Apple Tree Partners, Domain Associates, Brentwood Associates Venture Capital (Versant Venture Capital), Pequot Capital, Casdin Capital Partners and Healtheon/WebMD.

Jim Clark, founder of Silicon Graphics, Netscape Communications Corp. and Healtheon Corp., is an investor and serves on the board of directors, along with James Watson, co-discoverer of the double helix of DNA.

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