Will you still feed me when I’m 84?

Corrections or additions?

These aricles were published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on September 15,

1999. All rights reserved.

Career Changes for Gene Researchers

Research to map human genes has revved up to ramming

speed, which will almost surely affect careers in several areas of

the pharmaceutical industry. Wes Cosand, director of genomic

technology and bioinformatics of Bristol-Myers Squibb, believes the

stepped-up pursuit of the human genome will impact not only the

discovery

of drug targets, but also the development of new drugs and the use

of those drugs in the health care system.

"Reasonably conservative companies are betting that this new

discipline

will change the way that drugs are not only discovered but also the

way they are developed in the clinic and the way they are sold in

the marketplace," says Cosand. He is an alumnus of Ohio Wesleyan,

Class of 1970, and Rockefeller University.

At a meeting of the Association for Women in Science Cosand will

discuss

the impact of recent discoveries on the industry and the career

opportunities

they present. Entitled "The Impact of Genomics on Drug

Discovery,"

the talk is set for Thursday, September 23, at 6 p.m. at Wyeth Ayerst

on Ridge Road. Call 732-274-4607 for reservations.

Two events in the past year precipitated a sea change in the industry,

says Cosand. The first was the announcement that the United States

government and the British-based Wellcome Trust, the world’s largest

medical research charity (http://www.ac.uk), would dramatically

increase funding for accelerated research on genomic sequencing, so

that by February, 2000, a working draft of the sequencing could be

ready. (The government-funded Human Genome Project (HGP) is battling

it out with entrepreneur Craig Venter of P.E. Celera to try to

sequence

the complete human DNA located in the 23 chromosomes. If the

government

can win the race, the data will belong to the public domain.)

The second announcement, in April, was that 10 major pharmaceuticals

and the Wellcome Trust were joining in a precompetitive initiative,

to find hundreds of thousands of places in the human genome where

the DNA sequence differs among differing members of the population.

"These companies saw that as so critical to the industry that

they wanted that job done as soon as possible," says Cosand.

"Those two unusual announcements were overlaid on a landscape

where many of our firms are doing significant recruiting of scientists

to increase their efforts in genomics," Cosand explains.

The obvious result: "Recruiting is a real challenge. The pool

of people with a background in biology as well as in math or computer

science or quantitative skills is small." Excellent career

opportunities

are available in these three brand-new areas:

Bioinformatics, the ability to analyze DNA sequence data.

"Most of the companies are finding that a rich source of

targets,"

says Cosand. "The earliest impact will be, perhaps, novel (new)

antibiotics." Because bacterial genomes are smaller, they were

sequenced before human genomes; that data will be available earlier.

Transcriptional profiling, to document how many copies

of each gene each person has. "It turns out that in front of every

gene there is a tiny volume control. If that is turned off, it is

just as if the organism lacked the gene," says Cosand. "If

it is turned up high, then many many copies of that gene are

transcribed.

The settings of the hundreds of thousands of volume controls

determines

a great deal of the biology."

Pharmacogenomics, how to use genomic analysis to tailor

a drug for a particular person. People are different, and as Cosand

points out, significant portions of the population differ in

particular

DNA sequences. "This diversity is a problem for us in designing

and selling drugs because they differ in how they react," he says.

"If we could easily determine the differences in genetic makeup,

we might be able to easily determine how a person’s tumor would differ

and choose the most efficacious treatment regime. We might be able

to more easily set a more appropriate dose for a patient." When

scientists really understand the fundamental biology, they might use

this genomic knowledge to tailor medical care for those with a

predisposition

to a disease.

Applying the power of computers to these biological research

areas has fueled the rapid changes, sometimes called the

"industrialization"

of drug discovery. The adrenalin-powered research started out with

high throughput screening, screening at a very fast rate.

"Companies

spent a lot of money developing technology to do the screening. Then

they realized they needed to do synthetic chemistry and greatly

increased

the ability to do combinatorial chemistry in high throughput

mode,"

says Cosand. "They saw genomics as an extrapolation of the

industrialization

trend, to vastly increase the rate at which they characterized the

protein targets which would then go into high throughput

screening."

"In the last year their view of genomics has certainly changed

and become perhaps more sophisticated," says Cosand.

Sophistication

often reveals an ability to admit ignorance. As Cosand says, "We

really do not entirely understand the impact or the effect that

genomics

will have."

— Barbara Fox

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Will you still feed me when I’m 84?

Long Term Care Insurance — heard of it? Probably

not, because many businesses don’t offer it. Long Term Care Insurance,

or LTCI, covers what Medicare does not: non-medical expenses related

to old-age or a debilitating condition that requires some kind of

assisted living arrangement.

With the nation’s largest demographic — the babyboomers —

approaching the golden years, health care is becoming a serious

concern,

so much so that the federal government is willing to put its money

where its rhetoric is, says Lisa Snyder, president of Web

Network

of Benefits Professionals and an insurance broker with Kistler Tiffany

at 2470 Princeton Pike. "The government has put a lot of new rules

in place that are highlighting long term care insurance as something

people should seriously consider," she says. "Legislation

was passed in the last two to three years to provide tax benefits

to encourage employers and people to buy it." Snyder covers the

specifics Tuesday, September 21, at 8 a.m. at Smith Stratton on 600

College Road East. Call: 609-987-6672. Cost: $30.

LTCI covers assisted living, nursing homes, adult day care, and home

health care. Benefits come in dollars per day that can be applied

to a variety of levels of care usually for an extended period, like

five years. The younger you buy it, the less expensive it is.

From an employer’s standpoint, one of the big selling points, says

Snyder, is discount rates. "Most employers think that once you

start talking benefits, it’s going to cost money, and most employers

can’t afford another benefit." A voluntary plan is offered at

a discounted rate. "This doesn’t require employers to add to the

fund."

Along the same lines, employers don’t have to stretch human resources

to administer the plan. "HR people are already inundated,"

says Snyder. "We as enrollers can deal with the employees in the

evening at their home. There are no payroll reduction slots or payroll

billing if the policy is voluntary. Everything can be billed directly

to the employee’s home."

The real benefit to the employer, in the end, is the peace of mind

it gives to employees, says Snyder. "If somebody’s parent is

having

trouble, at least they have something to fall back on so it won’t

drain someone’s retirement savings. A lot of people do it themselves,

which may mean leaving the work force permanently or leading a double

life. During the day, you have diminished productivity because you’re

worried your parent is going to wander off."


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