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To Run New Celera, Tony White Says Scientist-Entrepreneurs Need Not Apply

NEW YORK, Feb. 6 - Applera CEO Tony White is looking for a "superior leader" with management skills, not a scientist-entrepreneur, to replace Craig Venter at the helm of Celera, White said following a talk he gave here on Wednesday at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.

 

"Craig was ideal for what we wanted to do immediately [at Celera]," said White. "But he had no experience in what we want to do now."

 

Venter, who spearheaded Celera's successful effort to map the human genome, resigned from his position as Celera's president chief scientific officer in late January.

 

What the company wants to do now is ramp up efforts to become a major pharmaceutical company that can compete in the same league with giants like Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, and Roche, said White.

 

To do this, Celera will need as its president "someone who has been there before," someone "who can build a management team," he said.

 

While White indicated that his vision for Celera and Applera is all business--"I am a ruthless capitalist," he told the audience of assembled lab coats and suits--he also stressed the ethical and social implications of the work that Celera and others are doing in the genomic area. He pointed to Celera's new effort to sequence the genomes of 50 people and two chimpanzees in order to map the bulk of genetic variation in the human population.

 

Given that this effort and similar SNP-hunting expeditions are likely build associations between disease proclivity and genetic alleles, White noted that  this new knowledge will spawn a whole host of issues involving genetic privacy.

 

"We need to get busy as a society in understanding these things," he said, referring to the much-publicized ethical challenges and privacy issues that accompany genetic information. For example, insurance companies will want to have genetic information about policyholders--which White said makes sense from a business perspective. But he also questioned whether the ability of third-party payors to have access to such information might lead to a world in which many people can't get health insurance simply due to what's in their genes.

 

If society does not become educated on these issues, he said, "we are going to leave [policy decisions] up to people who are just alarmists."

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