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At CHI s Molecular Marketplace, Clues as to What the Market Really Looks Like

SANTA CLARA, March 21 - Taking the pulse of commercial activity in the exhibit hall here at Cambridge Healthtech Institute's Molecular Medicine Marketplace conference, one might get a sense of the shifting dynamics of the genomics-based drug discovery industry.


Although overall conference attendance was up slightly from last yea r - to 2,000 from 1,800 - CHI president Phillips Kuhl said he had to work twice as hard this year to get that number of attendees. And in the exhibit hall, where the number of booths dropped from 120 last year to 90, many exhibitors said their booth traffic was also down from previous years.


Notably, big instrumentation companies such as Applied Biosystems and PerkinElmer were absent from the exhibition hall.


Andrew Webb, sales and marketing director for pharmacogenomics company DxS, said his booth wasn't as busy this year, both because of the current economic climate and the increased emphasis this year in the scientific presentations on downstream drug development technology. He added that CHI had expected about 2,000 visitors to the exhibit hall, and that "there's only a fraction of that." CHI's Kuhl attributed the drop in on-site attendance to fears of traveling by air while the US is engaged in hostilities overseas.


But a greater focus at the conference on drug development may not have hurt all the exhibitors. This year, CHI instituted a separate track on "Target-Driven Chemistry," helping to bring in chemists as attendee, and 22 exhibitors engaged in chemistry or compound discovery, compared to about 40 genomics exhibitors. "People don't do genomics in isolation," said Kuhl. He added that many genomics companies and their investors are interested in seeing their businesses develop drugs, "and that's pulling us downstream."


Indeed, while exhibitors at the GeneData booth said overall traffic was down from a year ago, "we're seeing more chemists interested in our high-throughput screening offerings," said GeneData representative Arnold Liao. He added that he was surprised to find that representatives from several smaller bioinformatics companies approached the booth seeking partnerships, a non-traditional avenue for business development that suggests a level of desperation not apparent in previous years at the conference.


Representatives from Amersham Biosciences, Molecular Staging, and DeCode Genetics expressed satisfaction with the level of interest in their business and number of leads they were able to generate. "We've had a few good leads," said Abhay Patki, an Amersham representative, who added that booth traffic was highest on Tuesday, the day the exhibit hall opened.

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