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The Human Proteome

From the editor in chief
October 1, 2001

In a scientific paper written to support his doctoral thesis, Wilkins kept having to write the clumsy phrase “all proteins expressed by a genome.” After trying a couple of other contenders that failed to roll off the tongue, he settled on “proteome.” In September 1994, Wilkins used the new coinage at a scientific conference in Italy. His audience bought it.

And now others are buying. Since June 2000, venture capitalists and stock offerings have pumped more than $700 million into proteomics companies. Genomics companies and big pharmaceutical firms are starting their own proteomics divisions. More than 70 companies are now attacking some piece of the proteomics problem, each with a specific technology and angle of approach.

The job won’t be easy. There are more proteins than genes. And the proteomics payoff will come only with an understanding of the tangled network of interactions among proteins. There is still a long way to go. But Cohen portrays feverish activity in this young field, activity that should up the chances of reaching the payoff.

In one sense, though, proteomics may be part of the problem, as well as part of the solution. The genome project, and now the worldwide, informal “proteome project,” are piling up data faster than companies can deal with it. The process of bringing a new drug to market is already long and expensive. Will the mountain of new information present an obstacle that slows drug development even more? That’s the question Gary Taubes asks in “Speeding Drug Discovery”. Taubes tells us that there are, in fact, many new approaches to breaking the drug development bottleneck. He highlights three that he considers the most promising.

To complete this special report on where biotech stands now that the genome has been deciphered, we add an element that is always important in our coverage of emerging technology: personality. Cohen returns with a backstage look at the most controversial impresario in biotech: William Haseltine, CEO of Human Genome Sciences. Depending on your point of vantage, Haseltine is either a genius or a self-serving blowhard. Cohen shows both sides of this complex personality-and then lets you draw your own conclusions.

Indeed, in general we let you decide for yourself how significant the field of proteomics will be. But as always, we tell you what the new technology is, how it works and why it matters-just the information and analysis you need to draw conclusions you can have confidence in.

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