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{bio,medical} informatics

Tuesday, May 16, 2000

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LA Times DNA Device's Heredity Scrutinized by U.S.
"When the history of the just-dawning genetic revolution is finally written, a clunky-looking machine the size of a sidewalk trash can will play a starring role. The automated DNA sequencer is letting researchers quickly crack the biochemical code of life, an achievement that could one day turn incurable diseases into treatable ones. But the machine is at the vortex of a struggle over wealth, fame and, quite possibly, control of the genetic code itself.

The sequencer's developers say they invented the device without a penny from the federal government, the usual source of funds for such endeavors. Their act of entrepreneurial wizardry, they say, entitles them to sweeping rights over their invention. But The Times has turned up a paper trail that suggests a quite different story: one in which the developers collected millions in federal funds and failed to provide the government with certain key rights, such as discounts on purchases of the sequencers. Federal officials are now investigating.

The difference between these two versions of events could have a big financial effect on the inventors of the sequencer, the machine's manufacturer and the California Institute of Technology, where the device was developed. It could also affect the fortunes of investors who are wagering billions of dollars on claims made by the manufacturer, PE Corp., which has gained widespread recognition in both financial and scientific circles for its pioneering work.

Most important, the dispute could influence who gains control of the human genetic blueprint and all the medical miracles that it is expected to generate: the public or a few drug and biotech companies. "

redux [02.20.00]
Wired News Science + Business: A Bad Mix?
"Despite the conflict-of-issue problems, there are those who insist the status quo is the only practical way to go. If scientists were prevented from straddling the fence between research and profit, they reason, there would be few of them left to do the work. "

Leroy Hood, faces scrutiny on a different sort of conflict-of-interest issue. Hood, one-time director of the genetics lab at Caltech, is being investigated by the Department of Health and Human Services for allegedly scamming the government back in the 1980s.

According to Wednesday's editions of the Los Angeles Times, Hood may have overcharged the government for machines developed by his lab that are critical to genetic research today.

Hood, who later headed up the molecular research department at the University of Washington, played a role in founding seven biotechnology companies while at UW and Caltech, including Amgen, Applied Biosystems, Systemix, Darwin, and Rosetta. "

[ rhetoric ]

Bioinformatics will be at the core of biology in the 21st century. In fields ranging from structural biology to genomics to biomedical imaging, ready access to data and analytical tools are fundamentally changing the way investigators in the life sciences conduct research and approach problems. Complex, computationally intensive biological problems are now being addressed and promise to significantly advance our understanding of biology and medicine. No biological discipline will be unaffected by these technological breakthroughs.


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