NEW YORK--Deals inked two weeks ago between Pfizer and the two leading providers of proprietary genomic data, Celera Genomics and Incyte Pharmaceuticals, signaled the movement of both companies into genomics research collaborations and cemented a commitment by Pfizer, whose $2.8 billion R&D budget is the pharmaceutical industry's largest, to genomics-based drug research.
In a five-year deal that analysts estimated to be worth at least $50 million, Pfizer hired Celera to help it find drug targets and subscribed to five separate databases that Celera is developing. The drug giant, which in 1994 was the first subscriber to Incyte's LifeSeq human genomic database, has expanded that relationship to gain access to additional data and to formalize a datamining arrangement by which Incyte scientists will deliver full-length clones of selected genes. The goal, a Pfizer spokeswoman told BioInform, is to obtain clones for every gene identified as a drug target by the end of 2000.
Industry observers told BioInform that measures taken by Pfizer, Novartis, and Pharmacia and Upjohn to secure rights to data from both Celera and Incyte indicate that drug companies are attempting to cover their bases. "This shows that one source of data does not exclude the other," remarked a genomics industry analyst.
Indeed, some experts believe that matching Incyte's expressed-sequence-tag data with Celera's genomic sequence could be the key to speeding up the process of identifying entire gene sequences, and that even redundancies between the two vendors' data can be of value to confirm sequence accuracy.
Pfizer's deal with Celera permits the drug company nonexclusive license to isolated, full-length genes derived by Celera's human genome sequencing project. Celera has maintained rights to license to its other database customers the gene targets it identifies with Pfizer.
Celera said it would also provide Pfizer with bioinformatics tools for viewing, browsing, and analyzing the data. Some of that technology was developed by Celera's in-house software engineers, and some the company licensed from bioinformatics vendors that Celera officials declined to name at this time.
The five Celera databases to which Pfizer subscribed contain: the set of human genes derived from EST sequencing programs; Celera's annotated Drosophila genome sequence with gene, protein, and biological information; Celera's Human Genome Database, which Celera said now contains 2.7 billion base pairs and will ultimately provide the complete sequence and all human genes with links to associated biological and disease information; a database of single-nucleotide polymorphisms; and the mouse genome sequence.
From Incyte, Pfizer purchased rights to the PathoSeq database that contains sequence data for 34 microbial genomes and the ZooSeq catalog of rat, mouse, and monkey gene expression data. Pfizer also extended by two years its subscription to LifeSeq Gold, which Incyte said includes more than 90 percent of expressed genes in the human genome.
The second part of Pfizer's deal with Incyte was described by observers as an outsourcing arrangement through which the companies will jointly analyze all available sequence data to identify drug targets in the genome and develop full-length clones for selected genes. Incyte said it has already filed patent applications for some 50,000 human genes, and that it intends to patent targets it discovers with Pfizer in order to license them to LifeSeq Gold subscribers and its academic customers.
Financial terms were not disclosed for either deal, but analysts said the news bodes well for Celera. Pfizer is the first to subscribe to Celera's SNP database, the first of Celera's customers that is not an early-access subscriber, and the first to invest in a research collaboration. Because analysts have estimated the values of Celera's early-access deals at between $25,000 and $30,000, they estimate Pfizer's more significant deal to be worth at least $50,000.
To determine the value of Incyte's contract, analysts said they are waiting to see how the deal is reflected in the company's fourth quarter earnings statement. While some observers noted that the arrangement marks Incyte's evolution from a data provider to a genomics dealmaker, others remained skeptical that Incyte could win a high price for the contract. "If their revenue line is low again, we will know what these deals are worth," one analyst remarked.