- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 21, 2000

Shares of Celera Genomics Group's parent company shot up 15.4 percent yesterday on reports that the Rockville genomics company and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will announce a rough draft of the human genomic map next week.

Shares of PE Corp. jumped to $138.50 on the New York Stock Exchange. The company's stock has climbed more than 35 percent in the last three trading days and more than 85 percent since the beginning of the year, when the company said it would compete the genetic map of a person by the end of June.

"We are on track to make our assembly announcement in the month of June," said Heather Kowalski, spokeswoman for Celera yesterday. "There is not that much time left in June, but it will be in June."

Officials at neither Celera nor the NIH's Human Genome Project a publicly funded, international government consortium would confirm a Wall Street Journal article that a press conference is scheduled for next week at the White House.

But yesterday, British researchers working with the public project told Reuters that they would call their own news conference Monday to make the long-awaited announcement.

Expectations about the announcement have sent the entire biotech sector soaring. Since Friday, shares of Human Genome Sciences Inc. climbed more than $10 to $144, Gaithersburg-based Gene Logic Inc. rose $10 to $46.25, and Palo Alto, Calif.-based Incyte Genomics Inc. climbed $26 to $113.25. All three companies trade on the biotech-heavy Nasdaq.

"If you look at the Nasdaq Biotech Index, after declining steadily from early March highs, the whole index has sort of turned around and been gaining since the last week of May," said Sushant Kumar, an analyst with Mehta Partners in New York. "To a large extent, this is tied to the expectation of Celera's news."

The human genome is a biological map laying out the sequence of the estimated 3.5 billion pairs of chemicals that make up the DNA in each human cell. Those pairs make up the estimated 80,000 to 100,000 human genes, which in turn carry the instructions for all the body's processes.

The completed map is invaluable, because it will help scientists discover the causes of diseases and find treatments for them.

"I can't think of an accomplishment that is as potentially important as this one when looking at the history of human health care," said Eric Schmidt, an analyst with SG Cowen Securities in New York. "Our genes are what makes us what we are … . This is the first step of understanding those genes."

Analysts yesterday expressed relief that the two projects would make an announcement together. As the race to finish the map escalated since the start of the year, accusations of non-collaboration flew each way. But now researchers from both sides may write and publish their findings together.

The Human Genome Project was founded 10 years ago under NIH. Those researchers have been decoding human DNA and putting it in order at the same time, while Celera finished the decoding in April and has been putting the data in order since then.

International politicians including President Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have urged Celera and the Human Genome Project to collaborate. The public project has made its discoveries available as it has progressed, but Celera said it would wait until the map is complete before publicizing it.

Human Genome Project researchers earlier this year accused Celera of medicine by "press release" and of matching its findings against those the project has made public. Celera officials responded that if that's cheating, than the public project is guilty of cheating, too, since it is using the same technologies as Celera, which were developed by its sister company.

"Some have called Celera's behavior self-serving and utopian. But it's important to remember it is not a publicly funded project it's a business," said Winton Gibbons, an analyst with William Blair in Chicago.

Celera stands to gain hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue from its work, analysts say.

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