Site: Helix Research Institute, Inc. (HRI)
1532-3 Yana, Kisarazu-shi
Chiba 292-0812, Japan
Date Visited: 12 October 1998
WTEC Attendees: O.R. Zaborsky
The mission of the Helix Research Institute (HRI) is to develop effective technologies for identifying new biologically important genes and evaluating their functions. HRI was established on March 28, 1996 with the active participation of 10 companies, mostly involved in pharmaceutical research. HRI is a 6-year joint research project, with a planned fund of ¥6.6 billion of which 70% comes from MITI through the Key Technology Center program and 30% from participating companies.
Current management includes Mr. Osamu Nagayama, President (CEO of Chugai Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd.), Dr. Yasuhiko Masuho, Managing Director (Yamanouchi Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd.), and Mr. Hitoshi Watanabe, Director of Administration (Fujisawa). The past president and inspirational founder of HRI was Dr. Teruhisa Noguchi, formerly associated with Yamanouchi Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. and Suntory. Dr. Noguchi is now president and CEO of two new institutes, Tenox Institute and Medico Frontier Institute.
HRI is divided into three major departments or laboratories.
The Genomics Laboratory is focused on establishing methods for high-throughput cloning of complete full length cDNA and identifying gene function using new core technologies, such as the use of electro-optical devices for effective measurement of expression profiles. This laboratory is supported by the Bioinformatics Laboratory, which performs sequence analyses and functional predictions of new genes. The Biological Technology Department is linked to the work of this Genomics Laboratory by developing experimental methods for evaluating gene function using techniques such as gene expression profiles. The current personnel associated with this department include one principal scientist, one senior scientist, one scientist, and six technicians.
The Bioinformatics Laboratory is focused on providing integrated bioinformatics service to HRI's Genome Laboratory and conducting research and development on new tools for bioinformatics. The current personnel associated with this department include one principal scientist, five senior scientists, and three systems engineers.
The Biological Technology Laboratory is focused on the functional analysis of full-length cDNAs generated and characterized within the Genome and Bioinformatics Laboratories, respectively. HRI staff members strongly believe that high throughput analysis of gene function will be the key technology in the next generation of genomic research, and HRI's ultimate goal is to create a system for screening gene function. This unit is also interested in secreted proteins and signal transduction molecules in neuronal cell function. HRI's aim is to narrow down genes of important biological function that may potentially be targets for new drug discovery. The current personnel associated with this department include one principal scientist, five senior scientists, three scientists, three postdoctoral fellows, seven technicians, and five visiting scientists.
The interrelationships of these departments or laboratories and their major current research areas are shown in Figure C.2.
Fig. C.2. HRI research activities and alliances.
In terms of collaboration with others, the most significant activity currently in place is with Dr. Sugano, Tokyo University, who developed an efficient cloning method for obtaining complete, full-length cDNA using an oligo-cap method. The method has been described in a publication (Maruyama and Sugano, Gene 138, 171-174, 1994). The full-length enriched cDNA libraries from cultured cells and tissues are constructed using his method, as is a mammalian expression vector for direct application to functional analysis in biological assays. As a result, HRI is trying to clone new genes efficiently, particularly those related to human diseases associated with the central nervous system. In addition, HRI has an interest in monitoring the coordinated expression levels of genes in order to decipher the logic for gene regulation.
The 10 companies supporting HRI are as follows:
HRI's founder (Dr. Noguchi) and current managers are experienced individuals coming from the research-savvy pharmaceutical industry who have connections in the United States. For example, Noguchi was associated with Rockefeller University.
HRI is a relatively new organization tackling a major area in which Japan is behind (at least five years as stated by several investigators and managers). However, HRI has excellent resources (the latest and best in DNA technology equipment and instrumentation) and is actively engaged with several companies (especially Hitachi) to pursue niche opportunities in genomics. Hitachi is particularly active in bioinformatics technology developments.
HRI management has recognized that collaboration is a key to success in this fast-moving area and has initiated such interaction with Japan's scientists. There is also recognition that international collaboration is good, especially in the form of visiting scientists from Europe and the United States.