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Venter Sees Japan Playing Leading Role in Golden Age of Discovery

TOKYO, March 21 - Craig Venter, Celera Genomics president and chief scientific officer, suggested Wednesday that Japan would play an increasingly significant role in the post-genomic age and indicated his interest in expanding his company’s presence in the country.

Terming the current phase the Golden Age of Discovery in proteomics, disease prevention, and medical treatment, Venter said that Japan “could end up leading the world in terms of the implementation of new ideas in medicine.”

“We think some of the leading science in genomics is now beginning to take place in Japan. And Celera is very interested in helping to participate in that science,” he told a press conference at the University of Tokyo, where he also participated in a symposium entitled “Life Science Frontiers in the New Century.” The symposium drew researchers and biotech leaders from at least 16 countries.

Already on Wednesday, Celera demonstrated its commitment to Japan, announcing a deal to acquire a minority interest in HuBit Genomix, an emerging Japanese biotechnology company. The size of the deal was not disclosed, but Celera said that the deal would allow HuBit to expand its R&D efforts to analyze genetic variation. Celera might also consider serving as a business and scientific partner.

During the press conference, Venter expressed his admiration for Japan’s five-year Millennium Project, especially RIKEN’s work on SNP analysis of the Japanese population and the Human Genome Center’s research on genetic links to disease. Research here analyzing unique Japanese genetic variants, he said, could have implications for individualized medicine throughout the world.

Japanese representatives at the symposium indicated their willingness to consider potential collaborations.

“We are quite open if the collaboration makes the medical development more rapid,” said Yusuke Nakamura, head of the Human Genome Center and a project leader at the RIKEN SNP Research Center.

Venter highlighted a host of Celera’s collaborative initiatives as evidence of the role such deals can have. He pointed to Celera’s initiatives in the development of new mass spectrometers from Applied Biosystems, which will be capable of sequencing 1 million proteins a day, as well as to research with Compaq and Sandia National Laboratories to develop a supercomputer by 2004 that will be capable of 100 trillion operations per second.

Venter noted that the main task at hand for the computing industry was to begin to shift away from thinking about computing solely as a physics problem and to begin to focus on the computational challenges biology poses.

The need now, he said, is for the “help of massive new computing industry associated with biology and medicine, not physics.”

By creating the computational power genomics demands, researchers will be able to get a better understanding of how the entire human system works.

Estimating protein sequencing and the measurement of their dynamic variations would continue “for the rest of human history," Venter concluded that the biggest challenge now facing researchers is a matter of “changing people’s thinking from studying one gene at a time to looking at all of the genome in a holistic fashion.”