A Systematic Approach, and a Fond Farewell
Close to two months ago, the GenomeWeb crew assembled over a couple of boxes of some pretty bad pizza and discussed a trend that has been gathering steam for quite some time now: systems biology. It’s hardly a new field for us — Genome Technology’s inaugural issue in September 2000 featured Lee Hood’s new Institute for Systems Biology — but it’s one that largely remains a puzzle. To us, and to many of the readers we catch up with at conferences and over the phone.
Some people, like Hood, have a clear-cut idea of what systems biology is. Others, and you can surely think of a handful off the top of your head, treat it as the latest buzzword: companies that were yesterday doing pathways or gene expression are today calling themselves systems biology companies. Like many of you, we can’t see the difference in their business plan.
So it’s a coverage dilemma for us. Do we come up with our own definition, and stick to that? Seems pretty short-sighted in a field that’s evolving as rapidly as this one. Do we take companies at their word when they slap the systems biology label on themselves? As our readers know, GenomeWeb reporters pride themselves on digging past the PR façade to get the real story — which is why we couldn’t accept the latter as a solution, either. Our decision was to keep doing what we’ve been doing: write about systems biology the best way we can, keeping up with what is clearly a trend but always bringing a note of skepticism when the ill-defined term floats our way.
In this issue, I think you’ll find a great example of that. Senior Editor John MacNeil took on the formidable task of getting senior-level scientists at big pharma to tell him their systems biology plans. In his in-depth article, you will see one clear problem facing the industry — the number of very different definitions of systems biology — as well as each pharma’s attempt to take advantage of what could be the best news in years for withering pipelines.
As you’ll see, all this confusion may actually be a chance for scientists at genomics companies to make their mark on the pharmaceutical industry. Tom Colatsky, vice president of healthcare research at Paradigm Genetics, indulged me recently with a long chat about how he views systems biology in the field. Pharma is so compartmentalized, he says, that “smaller companies might have a better chance” of taking today’s fledgling efforts in systems biology and seeing them through to fruition.
You’ll notice a few changes to our editorial content in this issue. First, I’m delighted to say that IT Guy Nat Goodman is returning on a monthly basis. In the coming months, he’ll report to readers on the state of databases. He kicks off the year with a critique of repositories that are putting more and more restrictions on what is essentially repackaged open-source data. Additionally, you may notice we’ve renamed our Model.org column “IT Solutions.” It will alternate with a roundtable of industry execs giving us the scoop on the major issues coming down the pike for high-performance computing. We’ve also added a page for new product releases called Launches and Upgrades.
Last but not least, you’re no doubt wondering what I’m doing here. Adrienne Burke, who launched this magazine and served as its editor in chief for more than three years, has left GenomeWeb and started her own venture. Her insights on this page and throughout the magazine have steered a course for what has become an essential publication in the genomics community. We miss her already in the office but wish her all the best on her new path, a nonprofit that aims to promote the use of genomics in preventive medicine through public outreach. With Adrienne’s insider knowledge of this field, it’s safe to say you have not heard the last of her.
Meredith W. Salisbury, Editor
Coming up in March:
• From sequencing to genotyping to bioinformatics analysis, should pharmas outsource high-throughput life sciences services? What pharma researchers need to know, and key tips for scientists at outsourcing companies.
• How to take advantage of innovative product development concepts to get early access to new technology
• Plus: Nat Goodman delves into a database for a detailed look at what users need to know