Breakthrough Receives Joint White House Ceremony
Bob Davis and Ron Winslow,
Staff Reporters of The Wall Street Journal
June 20, 2000; (WSJ) -- Celera Genomics Group and the Human Genome Project plan to jointly announce at a White House ceremony next week the completion of a rough draft of the sequence of DNA letters that comprise the human genetic code. Senior administration and industry officials said the move is intended to set aside the often bitter rivalry that has engulfed the separate private -- and public-sector genome efforts as the decade-long project nears its primary goal. It is possible that President Clinton will participate in the ceremony, the administration official said.
Celera, headed by President Craig Venter, has indicated for several weeks that it expects to complete its draft this month. The public effort, an international consortium of academic researchers directed by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the Department of Energy, recently said its researchers would finish a working draft this month.
Portrayal in the media of the parallel efforts as a race has irked some officials on both sides, but leaders of both initiatives have been highly critical of each other recently, enveloping an historic scientific achievement in a battle of egos. A joint announcement at the White House would send a powerful symbolic signal that the government and private sector can collaborate on projects of such significance, the administration official said, adding that the agreement to share a podium at the ceremony is the result of weeks of negotiations. A spokesman for Celera, of Rockville, MD, couldn't be reached to comment. A joint ceremony would coincide with other talks aimed at coordinating scientific publication of the findings of each group, perhaps by the Fall, though there isn't any assurance that such an agreement will be reached.
The rivalry between the two groups has been fueled by the quest both for profit and notoriety. Celera plans to sell access to its DNA sequence to subscribers in academia and industry, who will use the information to uncover previously hidden genes. The public project already makes its sequencing data available to researchers free as it is uncovered on a daily basis.
Even as the race to complete the rough draft nears the end, most scientists regard the accomplishment as a milestone, not a finish line. Completing the sequence of more than three billion characters of genetic code doesn't pinpoint or identify the function of actual genes, for instance, a necessary step before knowledge about the genome can be translated into medical discoveries. That work already is underway at pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies around the world.
E-mail Bob Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org or Ron Winslow at email@example.com .
Celera Up 9
Percent After Plan To Unveil Gene Sequence Reported
June 20, 2000; New York City (Dow Jones Newswires) -- Shares of P.E. Corp./Celera Genomics Group (CRA) added to their steady June gains following a Tuesday report in The Wall Street Journal that the company will join with the Human Genome Project at the White House next week to announce the completion of a rough draft of the decoded human gene sequence.
On June 9, Celera said it will announce the complete decoding of the human genome later this month. However, company officials declined to comment Tuesday on the report that the announcement will be made with the U.S. Government's Human Genome Project next week. A spokeswoman for the Human Genome Project also declined to comment on the Wall Street report. Analyst Eric Schmidt of SG Cowen Securities was skeptical of The Wall Street Journal report. "I think The Wall Street Journal is jumping the gun a little bit," he said. "It's premature to speculate on the timing or ... whether or not it's been decided as a joint announcement between the two groups."
Celera shares had recently gained 7 1/8, or 5.9%, to 127 1/8, on volume of 1.7 million shares, compared with the daily average of 2 million. Shares have risen steadily since the start of the month, but are still well off their 52-week high of 276 set in late February.
Celera officials also declined to comment on Tuesday's stock movement, but Schmidt tied it to The Wall Street Journal report that he questioned. Celera's three-week stock rise has been fueled by their plans to unveil their decoded human DNA sequence. That the decoding of the human genome is complete would be "probably the biggest announcement in the history of health care and investors want to play (Celera) for that milestone," Schmidt said. "No White House event is scheduled," the spokeswoman for the Human Genome Project said in an interview. She called Dow Jones Newswires after earlier declining to comment.
If Celera and the government were to team up in unveiling the decoded human genome, the biotechnology company's stock would benefit, predicted SG Cowen's Schmidt. "On days where (Human Genome Project director) Francis Collins or other members of the Human Genome Project have criticized Celera, its stock has suffered," Schmidt said.
LEXICON GENETICS, Inc. of Texas
Meanwhile, shares of Lexicon Genetics Inc. (LEXG) rose 3 3/8, or 21.4%, to 19 1/8, on volume of 896,600 after the Texas biotechnology company said it changed [Editor's Note: The word "changed" may be in error; Their website http://www.lexgen.com/ says "altered."] more than one-third of all genes in the mouse genome. The company's Tuesday press release compared the news with Celera's decoding of the human genome.
"With the imminent completion of the human genome sequencing project, the genomics race is now turning to determining how the genes function," Lexicon said. "While Celera Genomics' recent sequencing of one billion base pairs of mouse genomic DNA underscores the critical role of the mouse in drug discovery, mouse or human genomic sequence alone does not enable the determination of gene function." Lexicon said some of the genes it altered may encode key proteins and accelerate drug discovery.
In a Tuesday press briefing, White House spokesman Joe Lockhart declined to comment on when or how progress on decoding the human genome will be announced. The Human Genome Project also declined to comment further after saying that no White House ceremony was scheduled. The financial benefits that Celera may reap from sequencing the human genome are a long way off, analysts emphasized. "Investors are buying Celera for what it might be in five to ten years," SG Cowen's Schmidt said.
Christine Nuzum; Dow Jones Newswires; Voice: 201-938-5172