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Drug Development: Molecular Medicine Meeting Gives Clues to State of Market

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Taking the pulse of commercial activity in the exhibit hall at Cambridge Healthtech Institute’s Molecular Medicine Marketplace conference in March, one gets a sense of the shifting dynamics of the genomics-based drug discovery industry.

Although overall conference attendance was up slightly from last year — 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 last year’s 120 to 90, many exhibitors say booth traffic was also down from previous years.

Notably, big instrumentation companies such as Applied Biosystems and Perkin-Elmer were absent from the tradeshow floor.

Andrew Webb, sales and marketing director for pharmacogenomics company DxS, says his booth wasn’t as busy this year, both because of the current economic climate and this year’s increased emphasis 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.” Kuhl attributes the drop in on-site attendance to fears of traveling by air while the US is at war.

But a greater focus 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 attendees, and 22 exhibitors engaged in chemistry or compound discovery, compared to about 40 genomics exhibitors. “People don’t do genomics in isolation,” says Kuhl. He adds 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 say overall traffic was down from a year ago, “We’re seeing more chemists interested in our high-throughput screening offerings,” says GeneData representative Arnold Liao. 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.

Representatives from Amersham Biosciences, Molecular Staging, and DeCode Genetics were satisfied with the level of interest in their business and the number of leads they generated.

— John S. MacNeil

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