INCYTE: Biotech Company Aims To Map DNA In One Year
A Palo Alto, CA-based biotechnology firm has announced an ambitious plan to map the human genome within a year, which would give the company a two-year jump on their nearest private-sector competitor and beat the federal government's effort by six years. Incyte Pharmaceuticals Inc.'s announcement yesterday of the one-year projected timetable coincided with its purchase of the British firm Hexagen for $41 million in cash and stock. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that "[t]he company will incorporate Hexagen into a new division to be called Incyte Genetics, which ... will specialize in selling information about gene variations" (DeBare, 8/18). The Financial Times reports that "Hexagen's key technology is a very rapid way of discovering how individuals differ in their DNA sequences" (Cookson, 8/18). Those variations, known as SNP's, or "snips", are the primary focus of Incyte's efforts. The New York Times reports that Incyte "plans to rent its snip library to drug companies to help discover the gene variants that contribute to disease as well as for pharmacogenomics, a new approach based on tailoring drugs" to a patient's specific genetic makeup. Unlike the other two entrants in the genomics field -- the federal government's team and Rockville, MD-based Celera Genomics Corp. -- "Incyte will not publish its data." Incyte's one-year deadline is also shorter than the three-year goal set by Celera.
Will The Gamble Pay Off?
Incyte and Celera both estimate that their efforts will cost approximately $200 million (Wade, 8/18). Elke Jordan, deputy director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, said, "What both of these companies seem to be hoping is that there's going to be a huge market for using these markers in drug development ... they obviously believe there is tremendous potential here to make money. We'll have to see how that pans out." The Washington Post reports that drugmakers hope that mapping the human genome will help them "design drugs that cure or control diseases with minimal side effects." Incyte President and Chief Scientific Officer Randy Scott said, "The hope for the pharmaceutical industry is that this will drive much more efficient clinical studies. They're trapped right now by this number that says only one out of 10 drugs makes it through clinical trials. If you can come up with a way to change that number to two out of 10 or three out of 10, that alone would have just a massive effect."
The Feds Ain't Dead
The Post reports that Celera and Incyte "played down the notion that their ventures should be viewed as ... supplanting the federal program." The federal program's funding, scope and depth dwarf both private efforts, with a projected total cost of $3 billion by 2005. Included in the price tag is the development of sophisticated tools and technology that are currently used by both private-sector teams. "Celera and Incyte plan to employ technically riskier approaches to mapping the genetic code" that leave out small gaps of random information, despite the fact that "[m]any academic scientists feel it is important to develop a comprehensive map," the Post reports. Fearing that private efforts would spur lawmakers to cut or eliminate the federal project's funding, scientists warn that "[p]ulling the plug on the publicly funded Human Genome Project ... would leave society without any kind of backup plan if the private endeavors fail" (Gillis, 8/18). Both Celera and Incyte are on the web. Check out their sites at: www.celera.com and www.incyte.com.