Thursday, April 28, 2005

Selling DNA

Celera has finally faced the obvious and given up trying to sell genomic information. Celera was the company that "tied" with the Human Genome Project in finishing the draft sequence of the human genome in 2000, and its business plan was to sell subscriptions to its genome sequence information. The obvious problem is - how do you sell something that's already freely available? Since Celera and the public genome project "tied," Celera never had a real edge in terms of amount of sequence information available. Even if Celera finished the genome first, the public project was bound to catch up eventually, so Celera's raison d'etre would be gone. So I have to ask, what were the investors smoking? I suspect that Craig Venter just wanted to show up the public project and sweet-talked a bunch fo investors into giving him money...

In the end, I think it was a great thing - the competition really sped up the sequencing process, especially after Venter's idea of whole genome shotgun sequencing spread. But Celera's original business model just seems so strange, I don't understand how it got off the ground.

9 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I seem to remember hearing that Ventner used his own DNA for several of the samples used in the sequencing project by Celera, instead of the 'diverse' population that was originally reported. I can't find anything on Google about it now though.  

Posted by BotanicalGirl

4/28/2005 08:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, I think that's right. Here 's a link to a NYTimes article that is now behind their archive wall, though it has a quick summary. It's a little bit creepy, if you ask me, but in the end it doesn't really matter, especially as the public project did its own sequence, and people have been mapping polymorphisms for years. 

Posted by Andrew

4/28/2005 09:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Celera's annotation was initially FAR better, predicting open reading frames that are being knocked out in our lab right now. ENSEMBL at Hinxton has caught up, but this was no tie.  

Posted by gaw3

4/29/2005 08:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ENSEMBL at Hinxton has caught up, but this was no tie.  

But that's just it, isn't it? I mean, I heard about other advantages that the Celera "product" had - like they had sequenced the mouse genome before the public project did. But the public project was bound to catch up sooner or later, and it just seems like a bizarre business plan to bank on selling information that is freely available or will be in the near future.

However, this example does go to show that you don't necessarily need monopolistic patent protection to provide incentives for private sector firms to conduct cutting-edge research. 

Posted by Andrew

4/29/2005 09:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Andrew
(I'm sorry about the brusqueness in my first comment! I kind of dashed it off.)
Yeah, Celera could never stay indefinitely ahead of the public effort, but they banked heavily on the paranoia of folks like me. If their data are (momentarily) better, you'll pay, because you think your competitor is paying. Celera did a great job selling safety. But it's not a longterm cash cow.  

Posted by gaw3

4/29/2005 01:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

gaw3,
No worries on brusqueness; it's always nice to get comments! 

Posted by Andrew

4/29/2005 10:48:00 PM  
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