Concerned about being left out of the race to patent the human genetic code? No problem. Just fire up your Web browser, take out your Visa card and head over to www.GeneSolutions.com. The Web site sells gene information for as little as 10 cents per base (the chemical unit of DNA).
Launched in September by Hyseq, a Sunnyvale, Calif., biotech firm, GeneSolutions represents the marriage of two hot technology trends-e-commerce and genome research. According to Hyseq CEO Lewis Gruber, his company had accumulated a vast warehouse of gene data but wanted to focus its efforts on developing a few promising drugs. Gruber says Hyseq decided to throw open its doors and let researchers “purchase the genes on a point-and-click basis.”
The move is part of a familiar sounding e-commerce chain of events. Although Hyseq still hadn’t sold a dime’s worth of DNA-sequence information through the portal as TR went to press, plenty of other companies are also scrambling to stake a claim in gene commerce. Recent entries include Australia’s eBioinformatics and Pangea Systems of Oakland, Calif., which was scheduled to launch a portal called DoubleTwist.com last month.
Pangea’s main business is selling the “bioinformatics” hardware and software that pharmaceutical firms use to mine public and private gene databases for the clues they need to create new drugs. But these costly and sophisticated tools are outside the reach of most scientists, says John Couch, Pangea’s CEO-and so the company decided to broaden its market by taking its business online. With DoubleTwist’s easy-to-use interface, biologists can enter a gene’s DNA code and get back a state-of-the-art analysis. “You need some real specific expertise to get these answers right now,” says Couch. “The notion of our site is to get the power of bioinformatics into the hands of [ordinary] researchers.” Pangea looks to make money by charging fees to heavy users and corporations, as well as by marketing products such as chemical reagents online.