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In Apparent Shift, Venter Says Celera Won t Map Proteome

NEW YORK, April 5 - Several months ago, after announcing the completion of the sequencing of the human genome, Craig Venter, president of Celera, stated that his next feat would be to tackle the human proteome.

But this week Venter appeared to be announcing a new focus for his industrial-sized proteomics effort, as he downplayed the importance of the proteome.

In response to an announcement that Myriad Genetics, Hitachi, and Oracle had penned a $185 million deal to map the entire human proteome by 2004, Venter was quoted by The New York Times  as saying, "We don’t think there is much value in a general survey of proteins.”

A similar Wall Street Journal article indicated that Venter now doubts whether a comprehensive survey of the proteome is really useful, or even possible to compile.

“There ain’t no such thing as a proteome,” the Journal quoted Venter as saying.

These statements appear to contrast with earlier statements Venter and other Celera executives made regarding the company's proteomics effort. Venter and his associates previously told GenomeWeb and a slew of other newspapers and journals that the company was going to sequence the proteome as part of its efforts to find drug targets.

A March 24 article in Science  entitled “Can Celera Do It Again?” described Celera’s proteomics project as an effort to identify all the proteins expressed in an organism and track their ebb and flow in order to understand the role proteins play in disease.

“We’re going to be working through every tissue, organ, and cell,” Science quoted Venter as saying. He also said Celera would have “the biggest facility and the biggest database,” and would have the capacity to identify up to one million proteins per day, Science reported.

A July 17 BBC Online Article, “Celera Plans Next Step,” reported that Venter, speaking at the 18 th  International Congress of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in Birmingham, UK said “his new task was to map the proteins which drove all chemical reactions within the body.” 

Venter now appears to be saying that Celera's proteomics efforts will be more targeted to look at specific proteins that may be of potential interest to biotech and pharmaceutical partners.  

“We have a comprehensive goal in mind in proteomics but focused in disease states,” Heather Kowalski, a Celera spokeswoman, wrote in an e-mail to GenomeWeb. 

“I believe the difference is based on what has been reported about this recent deal, which sounds similar to what was done for the genome,” Kowalski said. "And what Dr. Venter said is that this is not a scientifically sound goal as the proteome is not a fixed entity such as the genome is."  

In March 2000, Celera raised $944 million in a follow-on public offering. Part of that money was earmarked for its proteomics effort, which included building a new proteomics facility, assembling an armada of Applied Biosystems' Maldi TOF/TOF mass spectrometers, ramping up the power of its $100 million supercomputer, and hiring Scott Patterson as its proteomics chief.

Myriad has said it will use mass spectrometry and yeast two-hybrid technology to characterize all of the protein interactions in the human proteome within three years. To accomplish this effort, the company has formed a subsidiary Myriad Proteomics. Myriad owns 50 percent of Myriad Proteomics, while Hitachi owns 28 percent, Swiss investment group Friedli Corporate Finance owns 18 percent, and Oracle owns 4 percent of the newly formed entity.

Myriad Proteomics plans to market its database of human protein interactions to pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies in a similar way that Celera markets its Celera Discovery System database of the human and other genomes. Myriad Genetics said it would also have immediate access to this database for use in its drug discovery efforts.

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