BUSINESSWEEK ONLINE : JUNE 12, 2000 ISSUE
COVER STORY

Unearthing DNA's Riches


Scientists have nearly finished sequencing the entire human genome. They can now "read" the DNA that makes up the genetic code. This opens the door to a vast, uncharted biological landscape--and promises to revolutionize medicine. But mining the treasure in the genes will take years. Here's how it will be done:

PANNING FOR GENES
Actual genes, which make up only 3% of the genome, lie hidden along the twisting strands of DNA. To identify them, companies are using computer programs and cross-species comparisons. Stretches of DNA that look similar in mice and humans are probably genes.

KEY PLAYERS: Celera, Incyte, Human Genome Sciences, DoubleTwist


FIGURING OUT WHAT GENES DO
What role does each gene perform? Scientists can get a hint by looking at the proteins they make and by knocking certain genes out of action in mice, fruit flies and other creatures, one at a time, to pinpoint each gene's function.

KEY PLAYERS: Lexicon, Exelexis, Millennium, Human Genome Sciences, Incyte

BUILDING DNA CHIPS
More clues come from asking which genes are turned off or on in each of the body's tissues--and in a whole variety of diseases. To do these experiments, companies have developed chips able to tell whether thousands of genes are on or off.

KEY PLAYERS: Affymetrix, Agilent, Myriad, Caliper

LOOKING BEYOND GENES--TO PROTEINS
Sometimes genes and the proteins they make can be turned into drugs, or be targets for drugs. More often, though, the best target is somewhere else in the biological pathway that includes the gene. Companies in a field called proteomics are puzzling out the complex networks of proteins.

KEY PLAYERS: Cytogen, Oxford GlycoSciences, Myriad

CREATING NEW MEDICINES
With the right targets in hand, companies can use "combinatorial chemistry" to create tens of thousands of potential new drugs. By analyzing the 3D structure of the targets, they can also design new compounds that home in on the targets.

KEY PLAYERS: ArQule, Pharmacopeia, Aurora Biosciences, Vertex

DESIGNER TREATMENTS
Ultimately, it will be possible to devise drugs that are precisely tailored to each person's genetic makeup. Even better, people who know what genes they have will be able to take steps to avoid the diseases for which they are most at risk.



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