ORLANDO, Fla., April 1 - The Walt Disney Co. and Applera on Monday announced that Disney will acquire the genome-sequencing and database business of Celera Genomics Group for $175 million in cash. The unit will be moved from its current location in Rockville, Md., to Disney's Epcot Center here, where it will become the centerpiece of a new drug-discovery pavilion at the well-known theme park.
Disney chief executive Michael Eisner and Applera chief Tony White announced the deal following the panel on duck genomics at Cambridge Healthtech Institute's "Overlooked Genomes" conference in Acapulco on Monday. The executives confirmed that high-level discussions between the companies have been "ongoing for years."
According to Eisner, Disney first became interested in genomics when the company was approached by Craig Venter, then Celera's president, who sought a DNA sample from the late Walt Disney, whose remains are widely rumored to be in cryogenic storage. "I can confirm that one of the human genomes sequenced by Celera was Walt's," said Eisner.
Industry analysts were not surprised by the move, saying it represents a natural migration for Disney into a higher-value business. "Right now investors are punishing media companies," said Frost & Sullivan analyst Abe Rhifuls. "Disney management clearly understands that everyone is moving into drug discovery and this gives them a head start and a great brand name."
As part of the deal, Applera's Applied Biosystems unit will license to Disney the technology needed to create what Eisner called a "spine-tingling new ride" out of the DNA-sequencing process. Slated to open in the summer of 2004, the "Sky Sequencer" roller coaster will allow riders to experience, among other things, the excitement of temperature fluctuations inside a giant thermal cycler and the adventure of being sucked through a 20-meter-long pipette.
Eisner characterized the planned Epcot pavilion as the "new public-sequencing project." "Disney scientists will be working right out in the open, with their equipment on display in front of millions of visitors every year," he said. "Now that's public."
Asked if the unit's sequencing priorities would shift under Disney ownership, Eisner said no, but with one exception: "It's totally appropriate that with the mouse sequence completed we should focus all available resources on the duck."