In our September 2003 cover story, GT looked at seven new academic centers established to exploit the confluence of scientific disciplines being applied to life sciences research. “Look Who’s Blazing the Systems Biology Trail” profiled Stanford’s Bio-X program, MIT’s CSBi, and Princeton’s Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, among others, and described their leadership, facilities, budgets, and intellectual approach to systems biology.
Since then the popularity of systems biology has continued to grow, although it’s debatable whether the scientific community has made much progress in coming to a consensus as to the concept’s definition. In June, ETH Zurich and several other universities in Basel and Zurich teamed up to create a Swiss network for systems biology, called SystemsX, funded with $8 million from the Swiss Universities Conference to last through 2006. In addition, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in February established the Cecil H. and Ida Green Comprehensive Center for Molecular, Computational, and Systems Biology, to be funded with a $12.8 million donation from the Cecil and Ida Green Foundation.
There have also been changes at the systems biology institutes profiled in our cover story from a year ago. Marvin Cassman, who was chosen in February 2002 to head the California Institute for Quantitative Biomedical Research — also known as QB3 — retired from the position in December 2003. Cassman had previously served as director of the NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences. In April, QB3 named Regis Kelly, a UCSF neuroscientist and former executive vice chancellor of UCSF, as its new director.
In GT’s news section a year ago we wrote that life sciences merchant bank Burrill & Co. was mulling whether to launch its own venture capital fund to support early-stage biodefense-related companies. As of press time, Burrill had yet to make a move. Last year, Steve Sammut, a venture partner with Burrill, said that a sector specializing in biosecurity-related government contracts would more closely resemble the defense industry than the biotech sector, given narrower profit margins and closer scrutiny in the form of federal audits.