Life Technologies releases siRNA data publicly

NIH data-sharing collaboration with the company hands over gene-silencing data to help all scientists better understand disease

Jeffrey Bouley
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CARLSBAD, Calif.—Life Technologies Corp. could have held on to its extensive dataset on small interfering RNA (siRNA) molecules. Companies holding on to their intellectual property is a common and expected practice. But Life Technologies made an uncommon move in December in a collaborative arrangement with the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH)—and, more broadly, a collaborative spirit with global researchers.
In what is said to be the first time that large-scale information on the biochemical makeup of siRNA molecules has been made available publicly, NCATS worked with Life Technologies to make the siRNA information the California-based company owned available to all researchers worldwide in the hopes of increasing their potential to understand better how genes function in disease and create new treatments for patients faster.
Researchers have known for some time, of course, that RNA interference (RNAi), being a natural process that cells use to control the activity of specific genes, could be a therapeutic tool. And siRNA molecules, which can selectively inhibit the activity of genes, are an essential part of such RNAi research and development.
But despite that, a major limitation that the scientific community has faced, NCATS notes, has been the lack of a publicly available dataset, along with siRNA sequences directed against every human gene.
As NCATS points out, providers like Life Technologies have not historically allowed public publishing of their proprietary siRNA sequence data. To turn that deficit around, NCATS and Life Technologies have agreed to give all researchers access to siRNA data from Life Technologies’ Silencer Select siRNA library, which includes 65,000 siRNA sequences targeting more than 20,000 human genes.
Along with this, NCATS is releasing complementary data on the effects of each siRNA molecule on biological functions.
All of this information is available to the public free-of-charge through NIH’s public database PubChem.
“Producing and releasing these data demonstrate NCATS’ commitment to speeding the translational process for all diseases,” said Dr. Christopher P. Austin, director of NCATS, in a news release about the collaborative effort. “The Human Genome Project showed that public data release is critical to scientific progress. Similarly, I believe that making RNAi data publicly available will revolutionize the study of biology and medicine.”
“By releasing all our siRNA sequences, we are enabling novel strategies to advance fundamental understanding of biology and discovery of new potential drug targets,” added Mark Stevenson, president and chief operating officer of Life Technologies.
Experts from the NIH RNAi initiative, administered by NCATS’ Division of Pre-Clinical Innovation, conduct screens for NIH investigators, and they will add new RNAi data to PubChem on an ongoing basis so that the database can become a growing resource for gene function studies. Buoyed by the success of this work with Life Technologies, NIH is inviting other companies that sell siRNA libraries and researchers who conduct genome-wide RNAi screens with the Life Technologies library to deposit sequence data and biological activity information into PubChem. Should researchers need any assistance submitting data to PubChem, they are encouraged to contact the government agency via
“Translation of siRNA library screening results into impactful downstream experiments is the ultimate goal of scientists using our library,” said Dr. Alan Sachs, head of global research and development for Life Technologies. “The availability of these sequence data should greatly facilitate this effort because scientists no longer will be blinded to the actual sequence they are targeting.”
Commenting on the public release of this siRNA data in early January, Market Watch noted that companies—and presumably academic research operations as well—could receive “a significant boost this year” thanks to the effort between NIH and Life Technologies.
As Market Watch points out, “favorable clinical data from companies like Alnylam Pharmaceuticals and RXi Pharmaceuticals has renewed investor appetite in the RNA industry to the point where companies like Dicerna Pharmaceuticals are comfortable with an IPO. The NIH's recent data collaboration could encourage more participation and innovation in the space over the long term, which should help bolster investor interest and returns moving forward.”
Urging investors not to ignore the potential of this “renewal” of the RNA industry, Market Watch notes: “Like the Human Genome Project, the NIH's collaboration with Life Technologies could make RNA research much easier and open the door to greater industry participation.”
In commenting on its recent efforts with Life Technologies, NCATS noted that late last year, a team of NIH scientists, led by Dr. Richard Youle at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and Dr. Scott Martin of NCATS, used RNAi to find genes that linked to Parkinson’s disease, a finding that may represent new starting points for developing treatments. The study results were published online in the Nov. 24, 2013, issue of Nature.
“Scientists have harnessed the power of RNAi to study the function of many individual genes by reducing their activity levels, or silencing them. This process enables researchers to identify genes and molecules that are linked to particular diseases,” NCATS notes. “To do this, researchers use siRNAs, which are RNA molecules that have a complementary chemical makeup, or sequence, to that of a targeted gene. While the gene is silenced, researchers look for changes in cell functions to gain insights about what it normally does. By silencing genes in the cell one at a time, scientists can explore and understand their complex relation to other genes in the context of disease.”

Jeffrey Bouley

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