The NIH is launching a new initiative aimed at exploring poorly understood genes that could potentially be modified by medicines. Part of an NIH Common Fund three-year pilot project called Illuminating the Druggable Genome (IDG), the Institutes say they have awarded $5.8 million to eight institutions for the initial phase of the program.

According to the NIH, as many as 3,000 genes express proteins that could have their activities altered by medicines, but only about 10% are targeted by FDA-approved drugs.The IDG program, the Institutes say, is designed to fix this problem by supporting research of understudied genes in four important druggable gene families: nuclear receptors, ion channels, protein kinases, and G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs). Researchers will first delve into these uncharacterized genes and share what they learn on a public resource to enable the larger scientific community to build on the findings. They will also, according tho the NIH, work on finding ways to rapidly identify and describe the genes they explore, aiming to create a common language that can be applied across experimental systems.

“We have a gap in the drug development pipeline between what gene activities we know could be modified by medication and what currently is targeted,” said James M. Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives, in a statement. “By focusing on understudied genes, we hope to find potential targets for medications to treat or cure some of our most burdensome diseases—and then share what we learn so that all can build on this knowledge.”

The pilot awards include a grant to establish a Knowledge Management Center, led by the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque in collaboration with Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai in New York, with support from other institutions. Seven additional grants will support development of technology to understand functions of members of the four protein families. The institutions receiving these grants are the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (two grants); Massachusetts General Hospital; UC–San Francisco; Yale; J. David Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco; and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

While the awards are primarily funded through the NIH Common Fund, other support comes from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and other NIH branches.

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