Fool Interview With a Biotech Bigwig
Part 2

December 8, 1999

Tom: Dr.Venter, when I now think about what you're engaged in, and I approach it myself as an investor, I see an incredible research venture that could have staggering implications over the next hundred years. What is the economic model of Celera? How is the company going to benefit from doing this research, and how are public shareholders going to benefit from it?

Venter: It's going to happen in several ways, and it's already starting to happen in terms of the leading pharmaceutical companies in the world know that to develop new therapeutics they have to have the ability to use and comprehend this massive amount of new information. And so a key part of what we're doing is dotcom-to-dotcom Internet business where we're providing this information, the understanding, the interpretation of it to help the leading pharmaceutical companies develop new drugs. One of those is one you were talking about earlier, Amgen (Nasdaq: AMGN). They've used more successfully than anyone else in history human genes to develop new key therapeutics that save and change people's lives. Understanding the genetic code is key to moving this forward. The pharmaceutical industry is going to be a key part of building the early part of Celera's success. Academic research institutions will also be subscribing to our online database.

But the ultimate long-term success is going out to physicians and to individuals to help people and empower people to understand their own genetic codes and what it means for helping them predict their medical futures, what they might do to change their lives. Things like colon cancer, with the genes that we and others have found, is somewhat predictable. Nothing is absolute in genetics as some people like to believe, but if you know that you have the spelling changes in the DNA paradigms associated and linked to colon cancer, you don't wait until age 50 to go and get a colonoscopy. Colon cancer is highly treatable if it's found early. By empowering people to know whether they have an increased likelihood, they can have much more control over their own lives and can be checked early and more frequently. That means they have a chance of catching cancer early if it appears, and having it be an inconvenience instead of a lethal event.

David: And that's just one example, colon cancer, among many.

Venter: Out of probably 50,000 different examples.

David: If I'm an average person -- as I am -- and I'm new to this field and I'm learning about it, what is the one thing that you'd suggest I keep an eye on?...

Venter: I think the single most important event on our minds is genetic privacy. Our plan is to provide this information to individuals to empower their lives and let them be the controllers of it. We don't want to create a database of individual's genetic profiles. And I think we all need to have our genetic privacy be protected so it doesn't get used inadvertently against anybody.

David: Let me jump in and ask a question. Am I right that Iceland as a country has required that all of its citizens provide their genome?

Venter: I don't think they've required all of the citizens to. I think they had a referendum where they started a genetic screening company using the highly inbred populations in Iceland to help major pharmaceutical and a local biotech company find the causes of disease, and I think all of the people there are doing it voluntarily, but it is unusual in that it's being done at a national level.

David: So protecting the privacy of our own genetic information is something that I should be particularly focused on?

Venter: That's right. And there are lots of laws pending in congress. It relates to national healthcare. It relates to however this information gets used, how drugs get approved, so it all links back to each of our fundamental genetic information.

David: OK. Good. Now, Tom Gardner, the closing payoff question for Dr. Venter.

Tom: This is the payoff question, Dr. Venter. I've been waiting throughout this entire interview and all week for this interview to ask this question. I mean, I'm interested as an investor about what's happening in society, but I'm looking at your photograph on the website and I'm noticing a single trait that we both share -- that's a very dramatic trait, particularly for men. That is you're a bald guy and I'm a bald guy, and I'm wondering in biotechnological terms what do we have to look forward to?

Venter: Well, that's an excellent question. That's where society norms sort of outweigh biology. Male-pattern baldness is far too prevalent in the population to be a negative trait. In fact there are several theories that it's extremely positive in natural selection in terms of sex appeal. And so some of the fashion magazines definitely have it wrong, and I think people are going to be looking in the future to see how they can lose their hair faster to be like you and me.

Tom: Oh. That was the intent of my question. How could others try and be like us? So we have to invert the fashion magazines to really understand what fashion is. Dr. Venter, thank you very much for sharing some time this weekend and shedding some light on the world of biotechnology and how Celera is participating. Thanks for joining us.

David: And we wish you good luck.

Venter: Thank you.

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 Related Links

  • Celera website
  • Celera Message Board