Having recently pointed out some unwelcome legal activity from Novartis in the form of a challenge to India's patent laws, yesterday there was some better news reported about the pharmaceutical giant's research.
"Some of the world's biggest drug companies are finding that their genetic research is worth more to them if they give it away.
Novartis (nyse: NVS - news - people ), the Basel, Switzerland, drug giant, has helped uncover which of the 20,000 genes identified by the Human Genome Project are likely to be associated with diabetes. But rather than hoard this information, as drug firms have traditionally done, it is making it available for free on the World Wide Web.
"It will take the entire world to interpret these data," says Novartis research head Mark Fishman. "We figure we will benefit more by having a lot of companies look at these data than by holding it secret."
Researchers at Novartis partnered with Switzerland's Lund University and the Cambridge, Mass.-based Broad Institute, a joint venture between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard that is funded by billionaire Eli Broad. This international team compared the genomes of 1,500 people who had diabetes with 1,500 who were disease-free. All the patients were from Sweden. To do this quickly, the scientists used gene chips from biotech Affymetrix (nasdaq: AFFX - news - people ) that allowed them to track 500,000 places in the genetic code where past experience has shown that there are likely to be differences.
The result: a library of genetic differences that are likely to increase a patient's risk of diabetes. Researchers don't know what most of these errant genes do, or exactly why diabetics are more likely to have these genes. That is exactly the puzzle a world's worth of scientists are needed to unravel. But Fishman says 12 genetic differences turned up by the work are promising enough to pursue further."