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Genomics Grows Up

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Call this the “What’s Next?” issue of GT. Only in hindsight, perusing the pages pre-press, did we realize we had a theme this month. What’s next for genomics? What’s next for DoubleTwist? What’s next for your career? And, of course, what’s next for Celera’s ex-CSO? (On the latter question we’ll spend no more words here, but refer you to the back page to see how we amuse ourselves around here at GenomeWeb.)

Answering the first question, Senior Editor Aaron Sender set out to find out what’s going on inside pharmaceutical companies at the intersection between genomic data and chemical compounds. He wound up stumbling across an emerging new business sector: chemical genomics. In the cover story, Aaron introduces you to a set of companies with which you might not yet be familiar (though you’ve surely heard of a few of the folks behind them): Ambit, Amphora, ComGenex, Graffinity, Infinity, Morphochem, and NeoGenesis.

By flipping the drug discovery process on its head and using small molecules to find targets, Aaron says these companies are finally truly integrating genomics into the drug discovery process. “It’s a sign that genomics is growing up,” he says, “no longer a separate discipline divorced from the rest of drug discovery and development.”

To answer another question we’ve been asking ourselves for some time, Aaron requested interviews with both DoubleTwist’s former and current CEOs. It’s been some time since the company began looking like it was ready for a buyout, and we wanted to know if DoubleTwist were to be acquired, what would the buyer get, and just what would it be worth?

Both John Couch and Rob Williamson declined to talk, so Aaron went to plan B: ask anyone who’s ever been connected with the company where they see it headed. In its day, DoubleTwist — which in its day was Pangea Systems — was a veritable bioinformatics think tank. As one long-time industry player recalls, Pangea Systems was like a holding pen for between-jobs bioinformaticists. “There was no better collection at the time of bioinformatics experts,” he says.

To be sure, if someone had bought the company in 1998, they would have gotten a gold mine. But DoubleTwist’s problem, similar to several of its predecessors, is that the company was founded on some solid technology but no real strategy for sustainability. Pangea Systems’ founders Joel Bellenson and Dexster Smith, entrepreneurs who’ve since moved on, were less about growing a long-term business and more about having fun doing it, those who were there at the start say. As he lives out the worst fear of any bioinformatics CEO, Rob Williamson can’t be having much fun now.

Finally, to answer a question that might be on your mind as you watch bioinformatics companies collapse and genomics companies morph into drug companies, we looked into your prospects for a new job in this field. Promoter Region is our new monthly column all about managing your genomics career (p. 71), and Resumé Reengineering will be an occasional lark. We salute Marty Gollery, who bravely agreed to let us submit his resume to a headhunter’s red pen and display her critique for all the world to see. We hope you and Marty will find some noteworthy advice there. And, by all means, if you’re in the market for a bioinformatics director, send us an e-mail and we’ll see that Marty gets it.

Adrienne J. Burke, Editor in Chief

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