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Gathered at Gambling Mecca, Genomics Types Ask Why Pharmas Have Quit Betting on Them

ATLANTIC CITY, NJ, Sept. 20 - "Why aren't we having fun any more?"


That question, posed by financial analyst Charles Duncan at a panel discussion during the World Genomics Symposium and Exposition here this week, typified the mood of the meeting, and perhaps even the genomics industry in general.

While exhibitors whiled away the hours talking on cell phones and chatting among themselves, attendees in sparsely populated meeting rooms were having trouble getting good answers to questions like Duncan's. "When will the pharmaceutical industry again have the flexibility to invest in new technologies?" and "How will small genomic technology companies survive until then?"


One speaker recalled the heady days earlier this decade when he overheard an investor during a Hambrecht & Quist meeting bark into his cell phone: "I don't care what they do, if they're genomics and they're in production, buy them."


Today, though, everyone seems to agree the genomics party is over. But how disappointed you are seems to have more to do with how realistic your expectations were in the first place. 


In a so-called Masterminds Panel here this morning, four life sciences-industry execs pondered the question, "When and how will '-omic' technologies have a positive impact on pharma's output?" They were generally optimistic, and agreed that genomics and proteomics have had a significant effect on the drug-discovery trade--albeit a different one from what investors desired.


Genomic technologies have generated "lots of target ideas, but the bottleneck [exists] in understanding which target is for which disease," said Mark Cockett, executive director of functional genomics for Bristol Myers Squibb. The effect so far from genomic technologies has been to create more work for pharmas, Cockett said. "New targets have no literature associated with them. There are an average of seven publications on any given protein, which means that pharmas have to do a lot more basic biology."


In response to the charge that pharmas have stopped investing in new genomic technologies, Cockett said, "We're spending more externally on genomics technologies than on our own internal research."


Clarissa Desjardin, executive vice president for business development at Caprion Pharmaceuticals, said that pharmas are already using proteomic technologies for compound profiling, and she predicted that within three years proteomics will be integral to mechanism of action studies and in biomarker discovery for complete serum profiling. Within five years proteomics will provide an understanding for the full protein complement of major cancers, at least for plasma membranes, she said.


David O'Reilly, the chief business officer for Iconix Pharmaceuticals, argued that whether genomics technologies bear fruit for pharma has "nothing to do with technology and everything to do with organizational change." To really understand the impact of genomic technologies, he said, ask what's happening inside life sciences organizations. If pharma is anything like other industries, it will be 15 to 20 years before genomics technologies are fully integrated.


"In the US we have a certain amount of technological hubris," he said. "Ask senior pharmaceutical executives. They're not evaluating the technologies; they're asking themselves, 'How can we organize ourselves to take advantage of these technologies?'"

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