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With Time to Kill, Beyond Genome Grunts Take Stock of the Industry

SAN DIEGO, June 6 - The vendor tent erected next to the parking lot of the Beyond Genome conference hall here was at times like a ghost town.


Some companies' booths--Lion's, Third Wave Technologies', Celera's--were abandoned on occasions. Other times the most traffic exhibitors seemed to be getting was from visits from other vendors.


Many exhibitors grumbled that visits by conference attendees were sparse, though the quality of interactions when researchers did wander by was high, they said.


Where were the attendees?


Some posited that having posters at the opposite end of the conference from the exhibitors, with the sessions sandwiched in between, scared away conference participants from hitting the tent. Others thought that the move from the conference's traditional home of San Francisco had thrown off the numbers. Still others believed a reduced budget for traveling or post-9/11 jitters had kept people away. Or perhaps decreasing budgets forced some people to decide between Beyond Genome and the larger BIO conference kicking off in Toronto next week.


To be sure, attendance numbers for the conference, which ends today, were slightly off, according to Rich Handy of Cambridge Healthtech Institute, which runs Beyond Genome.


Attendance slipped by between 10 and 20 percent for the bioinformatics portion of the conference, dropping to an estimated 400 this year from about 500 in 2001, said Handy.


Attendance for the in silico sessions may have been slightly up from the 400 it had in 2001, and the proteomics portion was "pretty close" to the 400 who came to it last year, estimated Handy. The number of exhibitor booths increased to 50 from 30 in 2001, said Handy.


Whether attendee numbers were down or flat, and whether attendees stayed in the sessions or wandered around the exhibition area, vendors were stuck in a hot tent, where they pondered with a GenomeWeb reporter the direction in which genomics is headed.


First there's proteomics. "Genomics is a backbone for secondary endeavors like the proteome," said Chris Hoover, marketing manager for TimeLogic. "People will always be referencing back to the genome data."


TimeLogic is "not focusing as much on Smith-Waterman [as it is] on Hidden-Markov to be more capable of finding mechanisms of action from genomic data," added Al Shpuntoff, a consultant working with TimeLogic. "The question often asked by bioinformaticists shifted from 'Do I know what this is?' to 'Is it similar in action to something I know something about?'."


Then there's informatics. "We've sequenced more or less the human genome. What's next?" asked Steven Daniel, director for scientific applications and customer support at Maynard, Mass.-based OmniViz, a wholly owned software subsidiary of Battelle. "There's a need to bring all data--genes, expression, polymorphisms, etcetera--together. Clinic data is predominantly numeric and categoric data, which our software handles as well as text."


But cautioned GeneData bioinformatics consultant Joe Shambaugh: "Just because you have the genome sequence, it doesn't mean you understand it."


"We're getting more and more into clinicals," added Bruce Windoffer, account manager for Spotfire. "Adverse Event frameworks started offering in January. You can find outliers, trends, clinical trial centers with bad data, bad patients."


"We're going to implement into medicine and enhance drug development in shorter term than 15 years," suggested Michal Preminger, vice president of research for Compugen. "In the last two years Beyond Genome meant moving to the next step in target discovery; proteomics, for example. Now we see Beyond Genome as moving down in the drug-development value chain all the way to medical practice."


"From the Human Genome Project we had huge lists but not [information about] how they interplay," said Sadhana Dhruvakumar, director of product strategy and development at New York City-based Cognia "The real focus now is on networks, and how a pathway is involved in ten other pathways.


"We go through literature, a lot of validated interactions, protein-protein, and networks," he added. "The list is doubling every six months. Nobody can stay on top of biomedical literature. We enable a database system to draw connections."

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