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Subdued, Cautious, Unabashed -- Optimists All

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As we pack this issue of GT off to the printer, we’re one week into 2003 and about 5,000 biotechies in business suits are milling around the hallways of San Francisco’s Westin St. Francis Hotel at the 21st annual H&Q meeting (now officially known as the JP Morgan H&Q Healthcare Conference).

No doubt, many there are nostalgic for the good old days when H&Q was like a New Year pep rally for genomics companies. This year, GenomeWeb correspondents phoning back to the NY office use words such as “dour” and “subdued” to describe the mood there. The herd of investors and attendees has thinned by 1,000 since a year ago, and the number of presenting companies has contracted from 300 to 260, with genomics and proteomics startups accounting for a far smaller ratio.

That old H&Q buzz is but a whimper. Reports our West Coast man, Ken Howard, “If there were a slogan here it would be ‘Survive, not thrive, in 2003.’” Companies seem most intent on just showing investors that they’ll be able to ride out the year until the tide turns, he says. (Howard notes one exception: Affymetrix’s presentation was as crowded as a New York City subway at rush hour. With proven technology that is linked to the clinic, investors see Affy as the sector’s standout, he reports.)

Somewhat more optimistic, though cautiously so, is our cover model, Peter Coggins. At the helm of PerkinElmer’s newly merged Life and Analytical Sciences business unit, Coggins is imposing some creative changes that are obviously aimed at keeping the company nimble and competitive through these troubling times. Coggins says he is honing PerkinElmer’s service-engineering strengths, spreading its eggs across several baskets, and “pooling resources.” But he also lets on that he sees signs that the market is turning around — reagent sales are up, and some significant big pharma orders are coming in. Still, he’s not promising anything more than a flat year. That way, he says, “if we have any surprises, they’re going to be positive surprises.”

In the face of all that cynicism and caution, it takes courage to broadcast a sunny forecast. Indeed, Arthur Holden, who e-mailed us on New Year’s Eve with the thoughts that comprise this month’s Opposite Strand column (p. 57), acknowledges that he is “unabashedly optimistic.” Says Holden, who heads the SNP Consortium, the Mouse Sequencing Consortium, and the firm First Genetic Trust: “We made great progress in genomics in 2002.” It’s a reassuring read from a man who knows this market as well as anyone.

And while we’re publishing expert opinions, our own IT Guy submits his argument this month in favor of unfettered access to genome sequence data. Alongside his mini-comparison between the publicly available mouse and human genome data using an open-source analysis package, Nat Goodman puts in his two cents for sensible policies about data sharing (p. 53). If you care to respond, beware — Nat is known for engaging readers in ongoing debates: [email protected]

Adrienne J. Burke, Editor in Chief

 

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