The future of proteomics

Bill Snyder
Published: February, 2003

Tony White
Applera’s Chairman and CEO
Among the scientists, business leaders and government officials who led the successful effort to sequence the human genome were two officials of Applera Corp., the parent company of the Applied Biosystems and Celera groups. Michael Hunkapiller, Ph.D., former president and general manager of Applied Biosystems, pioneered development of the automated machines that made it possible to unravel the human genetic code. Tony White, Applera’s chairman, president and CEO, was a guiding force behind the creation of Celera Genomics and its race with the publicly funded Human Genome Project.

In 2002, Lens magazine editor Bill Snyder interviewed White and Hunkapiller about the challenges facing the field of proteomics, the growing need for collaboration between government, universities and private companies, and the potential impact that the debate over stem-cell research may have on scientific progress.

Lens: What are the next advances that are about to happen? What will market and medicine look like in 10-15 years?

Hunkapiller: I think a lot of the drugs that are coming on the market now have come about because of a more thorough use of tools that allow in-depth analysis of the biology underlying the choice of targets and the choice of molecules that interact with those targets. I think we will see drugs coming to market at a more rapid pace.

What is clear is that when people are given drugs now, there tends to be a mix of beneficial effects for some people and harmful effect for others, and no effect at all for a third group of the population. One thing that will happen as we get a better understanding of all the biochemical pathways that may be impacted by a particular therapeutic compound, we can begin to do drug development in a way that maximizes the positive and minimizes the negative effects of some of those compounds. We will be able to target exactly the right disease-causing agent with the right drug as opposed to more of a hit and miss approach, which is what has somewhat characterized past efforts.

Understanding the underlying biology also can help us understand the preventive measures to take against disease. Most of the diseases that have a genetic underpinning also have a big interaction with the environment that can trigger those diseases. If we understand the underlying biology, we can begin to understand how to deal with preventive measures as well as the therapeutic ones.

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