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Celera Drops Drugs for Diagnostics


By Kevin Davies

Feb 15, 2006 | The company that raced to sequence the human genome, ditched its flamboyant CEO and database subscription model to become a drug development company, has decided to change course yet again.

Celera Genomics, based in Rockville, Md., will sell its small-molecule drug development program, resulting in 180 layoffs, mostly in South San Francisco. President Kathy Ordoñez said the announcement “marks an important milestone in Celera’s evolution” but said she was “confident that these changes will result in a new Celera that will be more focused, have a better financial profile, and be more differentiated around its core competencies of marker and target discovery and validation, as well as diagnostic product development.”

In a restructuring move by parent company Applera, Celera has acquired the rights to Ordoñez’ former company, Celera Diagnostics, which had been run as a joint venture between Celera and its sister company, Applied Biosystems, for $30 million.

Founded by Craig Venter in 1998, Celera raced against the international genome consortium, with President Clinton declaring a tie in the genome wars in June 2000. Eighteen months later, Venter was pushed out, as subscriptions to Celera’s genome databases tailed off. The company dabbled in proteomics before pronouncing a push into drug discovery. But the time and cost of drug discovery ultimately proved too much to bear.

Ordoñez said it was “a difficult decision to exit small-molecule drug development,” but one that improves the prospects for earlier profitability with less long-term risk. Analysts noted that Celera never hired an experienced biopharma executive to help navigate the shift to a drug discovery powerhouse.

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