Enabling Genetic Technologies

May 01, 2002

As the fanfare over the sequencing of the human genome fades, the spotlight turns to the "shovel and pans" companies offering the tools investors are betting on to make "gene to drug" a reality.

Several in that industry, including Genzyme, Pyrosequencing, and Global Genomics mingled with investors from Merrill Lynch, Oxford BioScience Partners, and HealthCap at the Consul General of Sweden in New York. Hosted by Consul General Olle WÄstberg, executives discussed industry trends, the US Senate's division over human cloning, and the dwindling reliance on Big Pharma as the financier of biotech products and technologies.

In her keynote address, Mara Aspinall, president of Genzyme General, which specializes in treatments for genetic disorders, noted that definite challenges lie ahead in preparing systems for applied genomics. Those include obtaining the maximum amount of genetic information from patients to improve their health, protecting their genetic privacy, and providing genetics education for physicians, patients, and managed care decision makers.

Despite the obstacles, gene targeting will guide product development because it produces cost-effective therapeutics and there is a lower incidence of adverse drug reactions associated with it, according to Erik Wallden, CEO, Pyrosequencing.

Douglas Fambrough, PhD, an analyst from Oxford Bioscience Partners, predicted that small biotech and technology companies will be more likely to look to Big Biotech rather than Big Pharma for potential partners. He points to pharma's "technology indigestion" from 2000, when it grabbed up more technologies than it could process, and the long-awaited consolidation in the biotech field that enables biotech-biotech collaborations.

However, Magnus Persson, HealthCap partner, says "the backbone of those strategies is to work along the value chain toward pharma-where the real value lies."