UW News

February 9, 2000

Immunex joins forces with UW’s Cell Systems Initiative

The University of Washington and Immunex Corp. announced today that they have joined forces in support of the School of Medicine’s Cell Systems Initiative (CSI) — a new scientific discovery program dedicated to the comprehensive study of the information systems that operate within all living cells and organisms.

“We are pleased to have a corporation of Immunex’s stature join in supporting the highly advanced research activities embodied in the new Cell Systems Initiative,” said Paul G. Ramsey, M.D., UW vice president for medical affairs and dean of the medical school. “This development shows, once again, the strength of academic-private partnerships in advancing biomedical knowledge to improve and better understand human health.”

The CSI is uniquely positioned to leverage and extend the insights provided by the Human Genome Project. Knowledge of the structure of genes will be used to design experiments focused on the function of their products, particularly their extensive and adaptive interactions. Those interactions are likely to be crucial components of the cell’s information processing network.

Immunex Chief Technology Officer and Executive Vice President, Doug Williams, Ph.D., said the company’s investment in the CSI is part of Immunex’s own initiative to forge public-private partnerships with world-class science and drug discovery efforts.

“With the CSI, the University of Washington has taken an innovative approach to facilitating cooperation among academic and private industry collaborators,” Williams said. “And we’re excited to be investing and participating in this initiative. The science platform will serve to enhance our ongoing research and drug discovery programs at Immunex and give us insight into new technologies.”

“CSI leaders are extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to establish collaborations with the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, for example, to study cancer and immune system disorders at the molecular level,” said Bob Franza, M.D., CSI’s project director and a research professor in the School of Medicine’s molecular biotechnology department.

The Seattle Cancer Care Alliance is a new research and treatment consortium that includes the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the UW, and Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center.

Immunex’s commitment of $2.1 million over three years will provide working capital for CSI. Immunex will also have four of its senior scientists actively collaborating with other CSI researchers, as well as other academic and industrial scientists and engineers. CSI fosters an environment in which exchange of information is unimpeded because of a carefully constructed intellectual property structure.

CSI will operate from a research building in the South Lake Union neighborhood of Seattle. The building, at 960 Republican St., is leased by the UW School of Medicine and was extensively remodeled to accommodate the planned research.

“CSI is already developing collaborative programs with colleagues in computer science and electrical engineering within the UW College of Engineering,” Franza said.

Students involved in the CSI will learn not only cutting-edge computer science, electrical engineering and artificial intelligence, but also cell biology, biochemistry, computational biology and genetics. In addition, CSI will build an extensive program of on-line education programs, as it is clear that continuous learning, well beyond degree programs, will be required by a diverse and large “student” population.

“The strong industrial support we have seen so far from both information technology and biotechnology companies for our research has convinced us that the demand for individuals with this type of training is high,” Franza said.