ST. LOUIS—With an eye to promoting RNA-based research, Sigma-Aldrich recently announced the creation of an RNAi Partnership Program that will see academic researchers garner the benefits of work arising from within Sigma and its membership in The RNAi Consortium (TRC). The company also announced Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey as the first program participant.
Under the terms of the program, partner institutions will gain access to a broad IP portfolio arising from TRC, as well as emerging technologies and a dedicated support team from Sigma's functional genomics program. In turn, Sigma not only hopes to see increased product sales, but also other benefits, according to Dr. Keith Jolliff, director of strategic marketing of Sigma's biotechnology business unit.
"Sigma and TRC are working together to validate the TRC RNAi libraries," Jolliff says. "We anticipate one of the benefits of the partnership program to be the willingness of researchers to share validation data that will enhance the utility of the libraries. The program is also intended to create closer relationships with academic researchers that we hope will lead to research collaborations and possibly licensing opportunities."
Dr. Andrew Brooks, director of the Bionomics Research and Technologies Core (BRTC) at Rutgers, concurs He states that while there is no formal contract for licensing access to technologies arising from the partnership program, he believes there is an unspoken reciprocity and that both parties prefer to work in an open environment where everyone can benefit.
The partnership program is just the latest move by Sigma in its bid to catch up to other companies in this area. "Sigma is a somewhat late entrant to the RNAi community so it has been necessary to move quickly to achieve a leadership position," Jolliff explains. "Over the course of the last 12 months, we've made numerous investments in this area including membership in TRC, the acquisition of Proligo to obtain capabilities in RNA synthesis, and obtaining exclusive and nonexclusive licenses to a broad portfolio of RNAi related patents.
Over the next several months, we will dramatically expand our capabilities by launching a best-in-class design tool, a cutting-edge delivery technology and a high-throughput knockdown quantification system."
He adds that Sigma has already signed agreements with several other institutions, one of which will be announced very shortly, and that the company is also in active discussions with several major universities both in the United States and Europe.
For Jolliff, the decision to join the partnership program devolves largely to a question of infrastructure and priorities. "Managing large volumes of content should be left to companies that have the infrastructure to do it well," he says. "Sigma-Aldrich is of the magnitude and has the infrastructure in place to be able to manage and produce on a promise that's not so easy."
He adds that while the BRTC has the automation set up to accomplish its goals, it is not interested in doing so because of the difficulties involved. "Because we drive grant support and we're doing the science, to provide that kind of service for screening actually doesn't make it affordable for us to do when you compare it to being part of a partnership program like Sigma's," he says. "So even though it is a scientific decision, it is also a fiscal decision. The fact that we can get any component we want depending on how we're going to utilize that target is very important."