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Proteome Loses 56 Employees as Incyte Trims Proteomics Subsidiary

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As part of a massive restructuring effort to curb costs and focus on its core database and intellectual property management businesses, Incyte Genomics has cut 56 positions at its Proteome subsidiary in Beverly, Mass., ProteoMonitor learned last week.

The layoffs at Proteome occur against a starker backdrop of cuts and layoffs of approximately 350 employees at other Incyte locations, including the St. Louis, Mo., and Fremont, Calif., custom microarray facilities, which Incyte has decided to shutter completely.

Before the cutbacks, Proteome, a provider of subscription-based annotated protein sequence and function databases, had 126 full-time employees, one source close to company said.

The layoffs affected all segments of Proteome’s business, most significantly the marketing team, which was cut completely. In addition, about 14 employees, or 40 percent of the researchers responsible for curating public domain protein data, and over half of the programming staff were laid off. All of the sales staff kept their jobs, the source said.

An Incyte spokesman declined to comment on specific cutbacks at Proteome.

Separately, the founders of Proteome, James Garrels and Joan Brooks, retired from the company earlier this fall for reasons unrelated to the current layoffs. There are no plans to name a successor, and Proteome employees now report directly to Ken Jacobsen, senior vice president for information sciences at Incyte, the source said. The founders have no immediate plans to pursue other business ventures, the source added.

Incyte acquired Proteome in December of last year to augment the annotation of its databases, including the LifeSeq Gold product now being integrated into Foundation, Incyte’s next generation EST database. The acquisition also served as a strategic move to prevent the company from falling into the hands of competitors, according to another source close to Proteome. The company’s potential for generating revenue, the source added, was not a major reason for Incyte’s interest.

Prior to the acquisition, Proteome had built databases of protein sequences and cDNAs for humans and model organisms, including yeast and C. elegans. The company provided access to the databases free-of-charge to academic users, and on a subscription basis to commercial customers.

Under Incyte, Proteome continued to expand its database offerings, and began contributing protein information to Incyte’s database products. The layoffs will not affect the company’s current products, but will sharply curtail its long-range plans to expand into such areas as compiling protein pathway and protein-protein interaction data, a source at Proteome said.

“We will continue doing what we do,” the source said. “We are still building our databases, and expanding what we include in our databases, especially in our human products. Mainly [the impact of the cuts] will be involved in cutting back future development.”

Specifically, the cuts will not affect Proteome’s ongoing efforts to improve the quality and consistency of its proteome survey databases across mammalian species, or the curation of papers on G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs), the source said.

Company officials at Proteome saw a degree of silver lining to the layoffs, even as they lamented the short-term shock of a substantial staff reduction. Moving forward, the restructuring should bring Proteome more closely together with Incyte’s efforts to develop its information business, and build on its intellectual property surrounding specific gene sequences and the proteins they express, the sources said.

“Certainly our force has been in having a large number of PhD scientists who can extract information and put it into controlled vocabulary in our relational databases,” the source said.

Furthermore, the layoffs may have been essential for Proteome’s survival irrespective of who controls the company. “Unfortunately, in the climate it’s going to happen no matter who bought us,” one source said. “ We were just not getting enough revenue for the amount of spending that we were doing.”

— JSM

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