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EXCLUSIVE: Genomics Firms May Get Their Own Governing Body Within BIO

NEW YORK, Feb. 12 - The Biotechnology Industry Organization is considering creating a governing body that exclusively represents genomics and proteomics tool and technology companies, the influential lobbying group told GenomeWeb.


"We are exploring--and I don't mean this in a vague sense--quite deliberately the specific, refined needs of the genomic and proteomics companies [and] developing committees and business development groups to deal with their specific issues," Carl Feldbaum, president of the Washington-based group, said in a wide-ranging interview.


Such a group, he said, might even be put in place this year.


Currently, there is no equivalent industry group dedicated to the interests of genomics or proteomics companies. Part of the reason for this, experts say, is that that segment of biotech is still too small and nascent, and hasn't yet reached the critical mass that might require an army of lobbyists prowling around legislators' offices.


To date, BIO has the closest incarnation of such a group. Some companies in the genomics sector are currently affiliated with the organization in a section called Emerging Companies. But firms that exist there are smaller companies that generally employ fewer than 250 people. So as these firms "become more numerous and more successful, and as their agenda matures, they tend to play a larger role" in BIO, Feldbaum said.


Companies in this segment "tend to be a subset of the biopharmaceutical sector, and they tend to be emerging companies," said Feldbaum. Morrie Ruffin, the division's vice president, added that "a large number of the firms in [Emerging Companies] are proteomics, genomics, and platform companies." Members of this fraternity include Incyte, Celera, Affymetrix, and Human Genome Sciences.


"As their agenda becomes more distinct from others [within the Emerging Companies section], they will earn their own agenda," said Feldbaum. "If their legislative and regulatory agenda is pretty much the same in terms of intellectual property, tax advantage, or regulatory affairs, then they [will] stay comfortably within the Emerging Companies section. If their agenda involves really distinct elements, then there is a stronger argument for us to split out a new governing body."


As it stands today, the Emerging Companies sector enjoys a fair bit of clout within BIO: Fully one-third of its board comprises representatives from Emerging Companies.

"We have made an effort over the last three years to include more genomics and proteomics companies in the Emerging Companies section and also [to serve] on [BIO's] board of directors," said Feldbaum. BIO's feeling is that "the board has got to reflect the composition of the industry. And as the genomics companies become more numerous and more successful, they tend to play a larger role at the board level.


"But that's not to say that while they're growing up they don't exert influence," he quickly added. "They do, basically through the Emerging Companies section."


Ruffin agreed. "We have deliberately recruited companies to sit on that body because of the significance of these companies on our industry."


Would genomics firms that currently reside within Emerging Companies be required to move over to a new genomics-only group?


"We wouldn't have them move," said Ruffin. "If anything it would be a parallel membership. From time to time we set up committees to focus on issues relevant to a subset of our companies, and that's what we would be doing with our genomics and proteomics companies."


To help support a genomics governing body within BIO, Feldbaum said that the larger organization may borrow staff from other parts, as well as bring in "experts from outside to serve on the BIO staff." Feldbaum said he has not yet determined what kind of budget a genomics governing body would be given.

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