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In sensitive deal, Celera signs NCI

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When Celera announced this summer that the National Cancer Institute had subscribed to its database, industry rumor mills went into overdrive about the politicking that must have gone into the deal. Craig Hyde, NCI project officer for the contract, laughs. “There were no bloodbaths,” he says.

Still, no one denies the sensitivity of the negotiations, which lasted at least six months. Jason Mollé, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Celera, says proceedings began when he approached some of the other NIH institutes. But it was NCI, the largest of them, that stepped forward. “NCI took leadership on doing the due diligence,” Mollé says. He calls it “an exceptionally well-run institute.”

That Celera had the nerve to sound out NIH might have surprised some observers, but Mollé says it had to be done. “A key marketplace for us is academic. We’d be fools not to approach the NIH.” (Shortly after NCI, Celera signed on University of Alabama at Birmingham, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, University of Oxford, and Pennington Biomedical Research Center.) There were still the usual worries. “There was obviously some concern that past turmoil … would rear its ugly head,” Mollé adds.

The contract, which at presstime still had a few details to be ironed out, allows other NIH institutions to sign on as well. It’s not a site license, though, so “it’s up to the individual investigator [whether] to use money from their own budgets” for the database, says Hyde. Negotiations, which he describes as “intrinsically complex,” dealt significantly with IP issues.

“This whole process was led by the scientists,” Mollé says. Hyde agrees that researchers’ requests for access to the database was the catalyst for NCI’s interest. “At the end of the day,” Mollé says, “what it came down to was good science.”

— Meredith Salisbury

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