C&EN Talks at Informex

Informex, if somewhat downsized, was upbeat in Miami. I haven’t got official word from UBM on attendance, but the consensus on the exhibit floor was that floor walking was down. Business, however, was up! David Ager, principle scientist with DSM, said it was well worth the travel to South Beach for the leads his company picked up. Others said the same. Generally, spirits were higher in Miami than they were in Anaheim last year. Go figure.

If there was any upside to last year’s venue, it was the proximity of hotels to the convention center. Informex 2013 was like an alternative Disney World behind the real Magic Kingdom with all the hotels on a short road that ended in a cul-de-sac fronted by the convention center. Most attendees spend all week at those hotels and at the exhibition. Still, show management had a hard time getting people from the exhibit hall to rooms in the hotels for the conference sessions. The solution this year was to combine the two with presentations given at two “Silent Theaters” in the exhibit hall.

C&EN presented two of the session. Publisher Kevin Davies gave a presentation entitled “The Chemistry of Next Gen Sequencing”. And I gave one entitled “State of the Vibe in Pharmachem”. From the speaker’s perspective and the attendee’s, I thought the speaking theaters, in which the audience wore sound canceling headphones, worked very well. Most speakers drew good crowds.

Kevin Davies and the New Machine. Photo by Rick Mullin

Kevin Davies and the New Machine. Photo by Rick Mullin

Kevin’s talk was intriguing. A history of the genome and its sequencing from Sanger, the genomics pioneer, to Illumina, the firm that debuted the much anticipated $1,000 genome just this month. There were walk-ons by Watson and a Dutch woman whose name approximates Crick. Much scientific intrigue, if not your standard chemistry.

Kevin is an authoritative source on the $1,000 genome, having, in fact, written the book. His slide headings were fantastic—The Language of God, The Book of Life, and Mission Accomplished [with a photo of George W. Bush on deck under the banner for context]. He walked us, engagingly, through the rise of single molecule exonuclease sequencing, the emergence of companies like Solexa and Illumina, and the efforts and machinations of marvelously driven characters such as Jonathan Rothberg and Craig Venter. He showed us scientist pub life in Cambridge, UK, and the rise of Oxford Nanopore, which recently debuted a sequencing device about the size of a matchbox car, heralding the easy-access sequencing of our X-topian future. Kevin demonstrated this thingamabob at the bar last night, and it is quite amazing.

 It is all very amazing. Especially the competition between scientists and the companies they form, reminding us that advances in pharmaceutical science have historically been heavily fueled and impeded by matters pertaining to fame and money. OK, certainly there is a legitimate drive for cures in the engine. But there are also some tough considerations as genome sequencing comes within the broadest public reach. Kevin’s presentation raised the equation of the $1,000 genome and the $1 million interpretation. He noted that there is much wailing over the FDA holding things up at 23andMe, a company that made waves five years ago when it began marketing rapid genetic testing to the rich and interested. But it may not be such a bad thing for 23andMe’s service to be regulated. Moreover, it’s important to note that their service produces genetic data that is pretty tough to vet and, therefore, may not tell the customer all that much.

Kevin is a real expert on all of this and he’s given me a few leads for the Life Science Business feature due on February 24. In that article, I will be looking at the RE-SET button being pushed on personalized medicine. Over the next couple of weeks, I will be learning a lot more about where genomics data ends and where patient data starts in the near-future world of drug research. Have any ideas? Call me.

In Silent Theater 1: State of the Vibe. Photo by Peter Cutts

In Silent Theater 1: State of the Vibe. Photo by Peter Cutts

My presentation covered the transformation that has occurred in the pharmaceutical and fine chemical sectors and how well the latter has accommodated the former. I drew heavily from the Pharmaceutical Year in Review issue of C&EN (December 9, 2013) and the headlines C&EN ran for its CPhI coverage over the last ten years. I will flesh that talk out in my next post… this one is getting long.

Author: Rick Mullin

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