Technology and science continue to progress at unprecedented rates, but the stock market that best exemplifies each, the Nasdaq, continues to slide like ice cream off a two-year-old. The Nasdaq is more than 30% below the high that it reached earlier this year, although it is only down around 15% for 2000 -- not a number that would make you shudder in retrospect a few years from now.
Everyone wants to know what will happen next -- precisely because nobody knows what will happen. This is partially why Fools invest in businesses for the long-term, rather than in volatile, changeable slips of stock.
Today is part two of our interview with the chief operating officer (COO) of DoubleTwist, Inc., Mr. Robert Williamson. For part one of this interview, please see Thursday's column. (And read that first if you haven't, for background.) Without further ado, let's ask Robert the next question posed by the Fool community regarding DoubleTwist!
TMF: Robert, will DoubleTwist consider expanding beyond annotating the human genome to other animals, plants, and so forth? And do you plan on doing any of your own first-hand data collection in the future?
Williamson: To answer your first question, yes, and we already are. The logical next step for our gene-finding activity is other organisms, and we plan to release several new databases in the near future. In regard to first-hand data collection, we do not have wet labs to generate "our own" data -- which is great from a cost basis, allowing us to be very competitive in pricing our services.
At the same time, many companies and academic institutions are creating great data in their wet labs but do not have a mechanism to fully monetize that data. DoubleTwist is a mechanism and channel to demonstrate the value of that data and to create a market for it. We are working with partners on creative solutions to get their valuable data into the hands of as many scientists as possible. It is a win-win for both the scientists and the organizations with compelling data.
TMF: What do you believe is the greatest limitation for success in the genomics industry right now (e.g., processing power, access to raw sequence data, qualified personnel, etc.)?
Williamson: Two things: bioinformatics expertise and intellectual property issues.
In terms of expertise, there are not enough bioinformaticians (experts at computational biology) to serve the biologists and their needs (the ratio is about 1 bioinformatician for every 175 biologists). I think Dr. Francis Collins recently mentioned this situation as the largest problem in the industry. This lack of expertise is compounded by the cost of the hardware to run the bioinformatic tools -- that is why we offer our ASP service.
Intellectual property -- the uncertainty and debate over patents and patent rights has slowed progress in this industry. This is one of the reasons DoubleTwist is not in the business of patenting data or financially encumbering our customers with IP fees (tithing). We don't mine the data for patent prospects before we deliver it to customers -- and we know this is a compelling feature for our customers.
TMF: Do you believe that your business plan would benefit from partnerships with other database suppliers beyond HGP, including but not limited to Celera? Why or why not?
Williamson: We are already benefiting from partnerships with some best-in-class content and functionality providers, including Derwent (patents), Proteome (proteomics), EraGen (gene family trees), MSI (protein structure), BioTools (downloadable desktop applications), and others listed on our site. Our "Swiss Neutrality" and compelling business model make us attractive to content partners and functionality partners. Our policy is to welcome all partners who share our vision of empowering life scientists.
TMF: We've read the "Who's Who" on the DoubleTwist website, but we'd like to know more. Who is the head of the "bio" part of the company in the daily operations, and who is the head of the "informatics" research at DoubleTwist?
Williamson: This question is a tough one, because it does not mirror our organization -- many of our people are both bio and informatics types (a rare breed). Suffice it to say, the "Who's Who" covers a few of the key people at DoubleTwist, but our accomplishments are the result of major efforts by many scientists and software engineers at our company. I do not think you could find a better team in our space and we are very fortunate to have attracted such capable people.
TMF: Next, a reader asks: In DoubleTwist's recent public announcement regarding its completed analysis of the human genome, what exactly is meant by "We have analyzed the human genome.... We have located approximately 65,000 genes and are closing in on another 40,000 by the end of the month." Is that the extent of the analysis? Or is there more?
Williamson: Actually, if you look at our press release, it says nothing about the number of genes. We didn't want to make a scientific statement in a press release at this point because there is more work to be done. We were asked by reporters what we see so far, based on the first run of the annotation, and we have said that we have identified approximately 65,000 genes that passed multiple sets of analysis indicating with high confidence that they were genes, and about 40,000 potential genes, meaning they passed one or two sets of analysis and need further study. These numbers will be refined as more raw data becomes available and as we analyze it.
TMF: The company went on to finish its news release by saying, "It looks like we crossed the finish line first." What finish line is this referring to?
Williamson: Again, that was not in our press release, but in an article, and the context of my quotation was that we were the first to complete an extensive annotation of the currently available human genome project data. We see it as more of a starting line -- we were the first to combine all of the available raw human genome data, clean it, order it, and identify possible genes and their function. But this is a start. The key going forward will be refining the data and building on this platform with further types of data and understanding, and then applying this information to new medical advances.
TMF: Will DoubleTwist be submitting its completed analysis to a peer review journal as the HGP and others are?
Williamson: Yes. We are working on that right now.
TMF: DoubleTwist has received $66 million in financing from investors, including the venerable Mayfield Fund. Being investors, we're curious: Can we expect to see DoubleTwist trading on a public market in the next few years? Maybe with the ticker TWST? Or DBTW? Are ya saying?
Williamson: Not saying....
TMF: Not surprising. OK, finally, Rob, so Fools can know you better, what are your two favorite books of all time? And what is your favorite movie?
Williamson: How about one top book and two movies: The Razor's Edge by William Somerset Maugham -- many, many other favorites, but this book has risen to the top for me over the years. [In movies,] Highlander, directed by Russell Mulcahy -- a cult classic. Revenge of the Nerds, directed by Jeff Kanew. No need to comment.
TMF: Thank you, Mr. Williamson. It has been a pleasure and we wish your company great luck and fortune as you work to help the world of science and its billions of potential benefactors.
Williamson: Thanks. Great to be a fellow Fool.
To discuss this column, visit the Celera discussion board. For other reading, Motley Fool Research answers the latest questions surrounding America Online (NYSE: AOL) with an AOL Q&A. Have a great weekend, Fools!
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