Celera Genomics gets first university client

Vanderbilt signs up for information on gene mapping

May 09, 2000|By Julie Bell | By Julie Bell,SUN STAFF

Rockville-based Celera Genomics Group, the biological information company best known for its bid to assemble the human genome, has taken a step toward filling out a thin customer base by signing up its first academic-institution subscriber.

Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., a top Southern academic research institution, has taken out a five-year subscription to certain Celera databases, the company said. Vanderbilt will become the first Celera customer to get that information via a World Wide Web-based product called the Celera Discovery System - a product Celera President J. Craig Venter said shows the company's commitment to making its genomic information widely available.

"We firmly believe that researchers everywhere should have access to our genomic information," Venter said in a statement. "With our Web-based science discovery system, we have provided the mechanism to do that."

Financial terms were not disclosed, but Celera Discovery is priced at $1,000 to $15,000 per lab per year - far lower than the $5 million to $15 million per-year subscription fees Celera charges its large pharmaceutical customers, said Paul Gilman, the company's director of policy planning.

Larger, preferred customers get quicker and broader access to Celera's databases and searching tools, which help researchers pinpoint genes that are important in determining various illnesses. So far Celera -- which was formed in May 1998 and which Gilman said hadn't planned to book any subscription revenues early on -- has booked subscriptions with only a handful of pharmaceutical companies. Among them: Amgen Inc., Novartis and Pfizer Inc.

By comparison, Palo Alto, Calif.-based competitor Incyte Genomics has relationships with at least 18 large pharmaceutical companies.

Despite its relatively low revenue contribution, Vanderbilt's subscription is important in a strategic sense because it represents the first step toward the kind of broader customer base that the company has been promising, William Blair & Co. analyst Winton G. Gibbons said. "We believe they're going to add diagnostic firms, small biotech and genomic tool companies," he said. "That's how you get to a robust business model."

Researchers at Vanderbilt will get access to Celera's databases via the CeleraScience portal at www.celera.com. The site provides data on proteins, genomics, medical news, educational information and secure access for customers to Celera Discovery, the company said.

Celera is in the business of providing gene maps and other information to researchers that will help them develop drugs that work better and faster, as well as the tools to search those databases. The company has made sequencing of key genomes - the complete genetic makeup of fruit flies, humans and, soon, mice - a foundation of its strategy to help researchers understand how various genes function in preventing or contributing to disease.

Genes give the directions that run the human body. Illness can result

if, through a variation or mutation in a gene, the wrong directions are given. For that reason, variations in the chemical letters that make up a gene can provide important clues to researchers looking for ways to short-circuit disease.

Celera listed $11.1 million in revenue for its third quarter, which ended March 31, and posted an after-tax loss of $24.1 million, or 45 cents a share.

The company's shares gained $5.50 to close at $95 yesterday.

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