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That Intangible Thing

SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 6 – There is a Hindu tenet that says that destruction is needed for creation to begin. In a small section of the formerly dot-com-booming SOMA district here, Structural Genomix’s computational arm is growing in the hip digs once occupied by dot-com victim Quokka, a now-defunct sports web broadcaster.

The spirit of the dot-com boom is very much alive in this building, a former textile factory built in the early 1900s. Amid custom-made wing-shaped wood and steel workstations and Aeron chairs—all apparently bought at fire sale prices—SGX’s computation staff sips espressos and works on creating protein prediction algorithms.

There is also the “Bored Room” sign beside the conference room and a pair of clocks in the reception area—one labeled San Francisco and the other San Diego, where SGX is based. The times on each clock are different.

Tod Klingler, a co-founder of Prospect Genomics, which was acquired by SGX in April, and now vice president of information sciences at SGX, laughs that someone must have changed the times to help with deadlines.

Klingler, a Stanford-trained bioinformaticist and alumnus of Incyte Genomics, is pleased with the computation group’s new home, having previously worked out of fellow-founder Richard Goold’s house, where he helped coordinate the efforts of the eight other company founders.

What Klingler had been looking forward to recently was the delivery to their new office of $2 million to $3 million worth of Compaq equipment, slated for an empty glassed-in computer room viewable to staff and visitors heading down the long, airy exposed-brick office.

But even though the bulk of the delivery will now be heading to San Diego—San Francisco’s strict building codes deemed the computers too massive (see article in the Sept. 10 issue of BioInform ) —Klingler said the computer room would not remain barren. Instead, it will house 20 to 30 Alpha processors and a server to become an R&D facility for testing algorithms before they are moved to the San Diego computational production facility.

The on-site computers will have an additional function as well: “Psychologically we need some computers here,” Klingler said. “It helps to see the lights going, we can point to the machines. … It’s that intangible thing.”

With plans to add five more people to the computations staff by year-end, and with the University of California San Francisco—home to many of Prospect founders—building a new research facility a stone’s throw from SOMA in the city’s Mission Bay district, the intangible seems to be taking form.

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