M. Somasekhar

Hyderabad, Jan. 21

FOR drugs and genomic companies, `molecular medicine' could well be the next big business opportunity, the Chief Scientific Officer of Sequenom Inc., Dr Charles Cantor, has said.

The developments, post human genome mapping (year 2000) in understanding molecular level genetics, point to the big demand for a new generation of equipment, diagnostic tests and drugs.

This in turn would fuel investments and economic & business opportunities, he told Business Line here.

The recent acquisition of Amersham by GE and its changed focus to molecular medicine is just one indicator of the way things are moving.

The diagnostic industry has not changed much in the past 20 years and seems poised to grow, Dr Cantor who directs research at Sequenom Inc, one of the major genomics company based in the US and Germany, said.

Sequenom has developed DNA mass spectrometry, which can analyse thousands of DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acids) sequences a day. Using this, it is becoming possible to gain insights into genes (human, animal or plant). This data in turn could be used to identify people at risk to various genetic diseases as well as cancers.

Dr Cantor, who was here to deliver the 8th CDFD distinguished lecture at the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics (CDFD), said advances have been made into detecting thalassemia in pre-natal stage, breast and lung cancers as well as Down's syndrome.

A total of 60 new genes, which pre-dispose people to disease, have been discovered and are being pursued.

In five years time, Dr Cantor predicted the development of easy detection methods for cancer.

It would be possible to identify specific genetic markers that are responsible for causing cancer.

Analysis of samples would be possible non-invasively (which implies they would be less costly methods) and finally, such diagnostic tests would not be unpleasant for patients.

Referring to biotechnology and the excitement built around Genomics during 2000-01, the Sequenom official said, "The 2001 excitement was not understood properly. Having a genome sequence is just the beginning and not the end. Even today we are finding genes responsible for certain diseases. This is still the beginning. Information does not translate to medical care instantaneously."

Biotechnology seems to be going through four-year cycles.

"We have come through a bad phase. Early 2000 we saw too many companies going public. The fatality rate will be painful. However, things are looking up and the next decade holds lots of excitement," Dr Cantor said.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated January 22, 2005)
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