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Genomix Quietly Evolves as Data Provider, Sells Licenses to Celera, eBioinformatics

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OAK RIDGE, Tenn.--Genomix has licensed components of its genefinding and annotation technology to Celera Genomics, a company that it also plans eventually to compete with as a provider of value-added genomic data. Genomix was established two-and-a-half years ago as Genome Informatics to commercialize genomic analysis tools developed by the public Genome Annotation Consortium, whose members include Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and nine other laboratories, institutes, and universities.

The recent deal is the first in a series of planned transfers of technology from Genomix to Celera, according to Genomix's CEO, Ed Uberbacher, who is also head of the computational biosciences section at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and leader of the Genome Annotation Consortium.

Uberbacher said he and his coprincipals--Chris Overton, who also directs the University of Pennsylvania Center for Bioinformatics; and Sylvia Spengler, longtime manager of the US Department of Energy's Human Genome Project--have maintained a low profile since founding the company, but are now finalizing several deals. One of those is with eBioinformatics, a web-based research portal that will provide online access to Genomix's annotation tools.

Genomix also intends to sell value-added genomic data, which Uberbacher acknowledged might position the company as a rival against its new customer, Celera. Genomix already possesses a database containing results of analysis conducted with its own tools on some 30 publicly available whole genome sequences. But, Uberbacher said, pharmaceutical company customers would likely use the "much less expensive" Genomix data for comparison with Celera or Incyte data.

Uberbacher described his privately held firm's mission, in part, as to provide the sort of analysis on other complete genomes as was done on Drosophila. "Annotation is becoming a hot issue, not only for the human genome, but for other genomes," he said, noting, for example, that the US National Institutes of Health are planning to sequence 500 pathogen genomes. "We're at the start of this flood. Sequencing is routine and efficient and producing data like crazy."

He added, "Most pharmaceutical and biotech companies will not want to make sense out of all these data by themselves." Genomix's bet is that precomputed data will sell. Indeed, the company website touts its motto: "Smooth Sailing in the Genome Flood."

The rest of Genomix's business plan revolves around selling a suite of technologies. Its genefinding tools, some of which are also marketed by Oxford Molecular Group, include Grail, GrailEXP, Generation, 1stLook, and GrailPro.

Those tools, Uberbacher said, will be of interest to customers such as Celera that do want to analyze their own data.

--Adrienne Burke

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