- The Washington Times - Monday, March 11, 2002

It wasn't supposed to be this way.
Counting the number of human genes one of mankind's greatest scientific breakthroughs has devolved into something resembling the quibbling over presidential ballots in Florida: confusing, contentious and questionable.
The two teams of human genome mappers concluded last year that we each have between 30,000 and 40,000 genes.
Scientists at Johns Hopkins University contend the figure is closer to 70,000. A biotechnology company makes a case for 90,000. Still others say the number may exceed 100,000.
It doesn't help matters that the original gene mappers the government-funded Human Genome Project and Celera Genomics, of Rockville are quarreling over who deserves credit for the two draft genomes.
A study two weeks ago contended that Celera used Web-published data from the public effort to help complete its human genome map. Celera officials denied the accusation.
Regardless, investors have soured on the once red-hot genomics sector.
"There's definitely disappointment," says Chris Ehrlich of the Menlo Park, Calif., venture-capital firm Interwest Partners, which invests in biotechnology companies.
Dozens of companies sprouted in hopes that genome maps would require genetic databases and computers able to sift through the 3 billion-letter DNA code.
The hope, for genomics firms, was that they could create, maintain and sell access to these databases to drug companies, for whom the data would help speed the search for new, smarter drugs.
Armed with powerful bioinformatic software crunching through the massive genetic databases, genomics companies promised to streamline the initial drug-discovery process.
It hasn't quite happened that way.
Many pioneering genomics companies such as Myriad Genetics, Incyte Genomics and Millenium Pharmaceuticals are now refashioning their business models to become drug makers themselves.
The coup de grace came in January when genome mapper Craig Venter stepped down as president and chief scientist of sector bellwether Celera, which recently announced it too would become a drug maker.
Celera changed its tune after watching its stock drop from a 52-week high of $49.90 on June 7 to trade in the low $20 range more recently.

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