THE WHITE HOUSE|
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
June 26, 2000
PRESS BRIEFING BY
DR. NEAL LANE, ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT
FOR SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY,
DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL
HUMAN GENOME RESEARCH INSTITUTE,
DR. CRAIG VENTER, PRESIDENT AND CHIEF SCIENTIFIC
OFFICER, CELERA GENOMICS CORPORATION,
DR. ARI PATRINOS, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR FOR BIOLOGICAL
AND ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH, DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY,
ON THE COMPLETION OF THE FIRST SURVEY
OF THE ENTIRE HUMAN GENOME
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
11:08 A.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: I think we've established why we here in the White
House Press Secretary were not entrusted with the Human Genome Project.
We're very honored today to have a very distinguished group to come
to brief you. I think you've all seen the event. But Dr. Neal Lane
will open this with a brief statement, the President's Science Advisor;
followed by Dr. Francis Collins, the Director of the NIH and Dr. Craig
Venter the CEO of Celera.
DR. LANE: Thank you. Thank you, Joe. Good morning everyone.
You have just heard President Clinton, Prime Minister Blair
congratulating all the members of the scientific teams of the Human
Genome partnership, the public effort involving the United States and
the United Kingdom and several others countries; having reached an
important milestone in the sequencing the human genome; as well, as
Craig Venter, President of Celera, and his team who have completed their
first assembly of the human genome.
So it is an extremely exciting day. It is a forward-looking time
because of the enormous opportunities for the use of this scientific
information to benefit all peoples of the world.
I would now like to ask Francis Collins to make a brief statement
and then Dr. Craig Venter and then we'll take your questions.
DR. COLLINS: Well thank you, Neal. This is a happy day for
science, and I think for the public, both here and around the world. I
have the honor of serving as the project manager, I guess is the right
word, of the International Human Sequencing Consortium, which has been
laboring to try to develop methodologies and then apply them for
sequencing the 3 billion letters of the human DNA code. We can now say
it's more like 3.15 billion letters, because we have a better handle on
That involves investigators, not only in the United States, but
also in the United Kingdom, in France, in Germany, in China and in
Japan. And that has been a particularly gratifying aspect of this.
Because this is, after all, our shared inheritance and it's nice that
we're working on it together around the world.
What we are announcing today is that we have reached a milestone
that we promised to get to just about now; that is, covering the genome
in what we call a working draft of the human sequence. That is not to
say that we have it all finished and zipped up and every last letter
precisely identified. That will take a number of additional steps and
probably the better part of the next couple of years to achieve.
But if you're sitting somewhere in the genome right now there is a
very good chance you're in our database. And if you look to one side or
the other of any particular letter in the DNA code you will find that
you're sitting on an uninterrupted stretch of sequence that runs about
200,000 letters in length, and most of the sequences there. So for the
scientist who's working, trying to unravel a mystery of some sort -- and
many of these are mysteries about disease -- this database is now in a
form that makes it possible to answer many of those questions very
Back in the 1980s, I had the experience of trying to track down the
cystic fibrosis gene. It took us about 10 years of very hard work to
finally succeed at that endeavor. And there were probably 100
investigators involved and millions of dollars were spent on this
enterprise. I can tell you that with the database that's now available
as of today, an average post-doc working in a lab would be able to
accomplish that probably in a matter of a couple of weeks. So it is
profoundly gratifying to see this come along in this fashion.
Finally, I just would like to say how nice it is to share the
podium today with Dr. Venter. I want to recognize his wonderful
willingness to come forward in the way that has led to today, with the
plans here for a simultaneous announcement of these milestones. The
work that his company has done is really quite remarkable. I think it's
a wonderful example of the way in which the academic community and the
biotech community and the pharmaceutical industry in this country and
around the world are really laboring together here to try to achieve
what we all hope for, which is an alleviation of suffering and a cure
I'd also like to thank the other person standing up here, Ari
Patrinos, of the Department of Energy, for the important role he's
played in leading the Genome Project, and the catalytic efforts that he
has played in getting today to happen.
So thank you very much. I'll turn it to Craig.
DR. VENTER: Thank you, Francis, for your very nice comments. In a
few hours -- or at 12:30 p.m., Francis and I will be making detailed
announcements at a press conference across town, where we will be
describing much more detailed information about the scientific
accomplishments of the two different programs.
Celera, 18 miles from here in Rockville, Maryland, started
sequencing the genome in September, just nine months ago. We announced
a while ago that we had finished the sequencing phase, and today we're
announcing that we've actually now assembled all that data into the
linear sequence of the human chromosomes.
This is an exciting stage. It's far from the end-stage, as Francis
said. In fact, annotating this, characterizing the genes,
characterizing the information, while that's, in reality, going to take
most of this century, we plan to make a very significant start on that
between now and later this year, when Francis and I agreed to have the
two teams try to simultaneously publish the results of the different
efforts. At that stage, they'll be really able to be compared in
detail. The scientists will be able to really go through the
information in dramatic fashion.
Like Francis, I spent a decade looking for one gene. That gene
cost hundreds of millions of dollars to actually find and sequence, and
it was a combined effort of NIH funding and work funded by MIRC. That
same discovery today would take 15 seconds by scientists using the
Celera database. And pharmaceutical companies, biotech companies and
university researchers are making those discoveries probably as we speak
-- unless they're still watching television.
I'm pleased that Francis worked with me, certainly with the help of
Ari Patrinos, to have this event be the focus, and shifting the focus to
the importance of this work to all of us and to humanity. And if we're
going to be the custodians of the genetic information and be trusted to
analyze it and interpret it appropriately, we felt it was important for
us to rise above the squabbles that you've read about, to act more at
the level appropriate with this situation. And I thank Francis for his
effort in that regard.
DR. LANE: I should have introduced Ari Patrinos, who runs the
Department of Energy's human sequencing research efforts. Department of
Energy has been very important from the outset in the concept of the
Human Genome Project.
Do you want to say a word? Good, then we're ready for your
Q Dr. Venter, can you tell us what the thought processes were
that made you -- and the timing of when you decided to make this a joint
DR. VENTER: Well, it's been something that's been under works for
a very long period of time, but really became much more actively
involved when Dr. Patrinos arranged a secret meeting between himself,
Francis Collins and myself that turned into a long series of meetings.
And I think it's something that we all had hoped would happen. It took
the individual efforts of all of us to really make it happen.
Q When was that?
DR. PATRINOS: It started on May 7th, and was followed by three
other meetings. The last one was just last week.
DR. COLLINS: And all of those were in Ari's house, and he served
beer and pizza, which was an important part of the good outcome here.
(Laughter.) Ari, I think, deserves a great deal of credit for being a
catalyst. When I called him up in late April and said, can we try this,
he was quick to say, yes, let's give it a shot, and put together that
first discussion. And things went very well. And thank you, Ari.
Q Where and when are you guys going to publish, and what are you
guys going to do with the accompanying data?
DR. VENTER: It hasn't been absolutely decided either where or
when. We expect it to be later this year. We're still working on, by
assisting the state of data interpretation and writing of manuscripts in
both camps, and then we'll try to collectively decide on a time for a
There are several scientific journals that have been wooing us,
let's say -- (laughter) -- and I don't think we've made an absolute
final decision where that will be.
DR. COLLINS: There's a prodigious amount of work involved in doing
the analysis of these 3.1 billion letters of the DNA code, and that is
very vigorously underway right now in a public project by a team of
investigators that have been meeting by conference call and a variety of
other mechanisms. And we aim to try to write really good papers here,
not just say, oh, we did it. But also, what did we find here? In the
first pass through the human genome what can you learn about what genes
are there? And maybe what's not there, as well.
So the intention is to be sure that these are papers that will
stand the test of time. And we look forward to the opportunity to do
this simultaneously with what Celera is doing.
Q What about the data that will accompany it, where is that
going to be deposited?
DR. COLLINS: Craig should speak for Celera. In the public
project, as you know, all of the sequence data is deposited onto the
Internet every 24 hours. And the analysis of that sequence data will
also be appearing very quickly on the Internet, even in advance of
publication. But the papers, of course, themselves, will stand on their
own because of the additional higher-level analysis that they will
DR. VENTER: Celera's data is available right now to the academic
and pharmaceutical and biotech worlds, but it's through subscription at
the moment. In the fall, when we actually publish our scientific
analysis of the genome, that data will be available to academic
scientists via our Internet site, Celera.com.
Q As this progresses, how is Celera going to make money on
DR. VENTER: The question is how is Celera going to make money on
the public data. Hopefully it won't. Celera has independently sequenced
the genome. We decided as a corporation that it was such a significant
event that when we were finished with sequencing the genetic code of our
species we would make that data freely available to scientists around
We've indicated that the effort to make a financial return for our
investors will be from understanding that information. We're right now
helping some of the biggest and best pharmaceutical and biotech
companies and academic institutions interpret the human genetic code. A
key part of this is we will have the mouse genome sequenced by the end
of this year, and that will be very key for a layering on top of the
human genetic code to in fact interpret it.
But our work previously has shown with the close to 24 genomes that
we've done both at Tigr and at Celera, is that having one genetic code
is important, but it's not all that useful. And it's only through
comparative genomics -- having both human and mouse, dog, chimpanzee,
rat, other species to layer on top of the human -- will we only then be
able to truly begin to interpret the genetic code.
DR. COLLINS: I want to completely agree with the conclusion that
the human sequence, without comparisons to draw to it, is going to be
very difficult to understand. And, in fact, the public project is also
engaged in beginning the process of sequencing other complex genomes,
including the rat, and a fish called the zebra fish, and also the mouse,
but a different strain than what Celera is doing. And I think Craig and
I would agree that that's a good thing, that these are complementary
efforts, and that you learn a lot from whatever sequencing of this sort
I would also strongly want to point out that even with those
sequencing efforts coming into fruition, we will need a lot of other
tools to understand how the genome works. Methods of studying not just
one gene at a time, but the whole genome, in terms of its function. And
that's a major goal of the Genome Project in the coming years.
Q I'd like to ask if you all are -- you mentioned doing a joint
conference to annotate. Is this going to be like the Drosophila
Conference that went on -- the jamboree?
DR. VENTER: No, in fact, I think what the President said is we
would -- after publication of our different versions of the genome, we
would have a joint scientific conference to compare the results; but,
more importantly, I think, to analyze the methods -- which are very
different for the two different genome projects -- to understand the
best methods for people to go forward.
DR. COLLINS: Yes, I think that's going to be really interesting.
In fact, for the mouse, we're actually beginning to do that sequencing
by a combination of the whole genome shotgun effort that Celera has
pioneered, and the map-based effort, which the public project has been
using for humans. Maybe for the mouse, we'll try a combination. But
being able to sit down together, and really look at the ins and outs and
the details of what kind of sequencing came out of these approaches
after the time of publication, is going to be incredibly interesting,
and I would think, a lot of fun.
Q Dr. Venter, can you talk about how many patents you've applied
for so far on the information that you've derived, and how many you
think you'll have applied for before you finally make the data public in
DR. VENTER: As of recently, I think, we're up to about two dozen
unique gene patents that Celera has filed for. The number is changing
constantly as discoveries are made with Celera and its pharmaceutical
partners: Phizer, Novartis, Pharmacia, Amgen, Takada in Japan. We're
only filing patents on genes that our pharmaceutical partners tell us
are essential for their programs to develop new therapeutics, develop
So Celera is not following the route of some of these other biotech
companies that are just randomly patent sequences that they download
nightly from the public effort on a speculative basis. We think it's
only important to patent things -- and I compliment the patent
commissioner. A recent report was issued doing what, I think, both
Francis and I would agree that we are pleased to see is raising the bar,
requiring much more information on gene patents than just simply
downloading data off the Internet and doing a quick computer search. So
I think we're definitely working in the right direction.
Q If I could follow up on that a little bit. I think one of the
big sticking points between the two approaches is that the consortium
was looking at every single thing in the genome, even nothing -- spaces
-- it's interesting -- whereas, Celera was looking for things that were
patentable, proprietary. To what extent have you been able to reconcile
your different world view there?
DR. COLLINS: I think that's actually an incorrect view. Both
methods were aimed to try to look at the entire genome, because we
imagine that all of it is interesting, and we would be kind of foolish
to pretend that we were smart enough to know what wasn't interesting at
this point, so let's just look at all of it.
And I think, actually, Craig's view and mine on the appropriateness
of patents are much closer together than most reports would have
suggested. And I, too, want to compliment the Patent Commissioner for
looking at this issue very carefully over the course of the last few
months and setting some new utility guidelines that are, I think, quite
reassuring in terms of making sure we end up with an outcome where the
patent system is used to provide an incentive for research and not a
Q Dr. Collins, could you explain the difference between what
you've done and what Celera has done?
DR. COLLINS: Well, how deeply do you want to get into science
here, because the answer is going to be of that sort. We will talk
about it at 12:30 p.m. But very quickly, the way in which the public
project has sequenced the human genome is to first break it down into
pieces that are roughly 150,000 letters in length.
Those are relatively straightforward to generate, but fairly
challenging to figure out where they go. We have spent a lot of our
effort, particularly over the last year, assembling those pieces into
large, contiguous fragments of DNA across chromosomes. And we have 97
percent of the genome now covered with those mapped pieces of DNA. We
use those pieces, those 150,000 letters long, as our sub-strate for
doing the sequencing. So we know how to put that back together.
That is not nearly as challenging a computer problem as the method
that Celera has been using, which is quite innovative and it requires,
obviously, a lot of computational effort.
So we take those pieces, sequence them one by one, and then
reassemble the whole thing back on to the chromosomes, which has been
going on particularly vigorously in the last month; and deduce what the
original sequence must have been by that method.
Celera takes an approach where they skip over the step of having
these 150,000 letter long pieces and goes straight to the sequencing
process and then use a computer to reassemble the whole thing at the end
of the effort; which obviously has some advantages. Because you don't
have to spend all the time and effort on the mapping phase, although,
the assembly process -- I imagine Craig might want to comment on this --
is pretty challenging. And there are some uncertainties to the degree
with which repeated sequence in the genome may give you headaches of
various strength. But maybe you should add to that.
DR. VENTER: There is a couple of other important differences in
terms of with the Celera approach for the whole genome shotgun -- we
take all the DNA out of the cells of individuals. So we actually have
genomes that actually represent individual's entire genetic repertoire.
Whereas, some of the back libraries have come from -- I don't know what
the total number is -- but a variety of different individuals. And I
think this workshop that we were talking about earlier could be actually
very instructive in terms of seeing if the two different approaches give
the same view of the human genetic code. And I think that's going to be
very instructive for all of us.
The calculation that we've done on assembling the genome is
certainly, I think, calculations that are larger usually come out of the
Department of Energy with some of the supercomputer processing there. I
think we did 5 million, trillion calculations to assemble the human
genome. It took 20,000 CPU hours on one of the largest supercomputers
in history. But it does reassemble the entire genetic code of
individuals. And we did this with a fruit fly. Scientists now studying
it have reported that there is less than one error in one million base
pairs with it, so the method is clearly accurate. But it could give a
different answer than these different cloning methods. And I think it's
going to be a very instructive -- probably not for the rest of the
world, but certainly for the scientists involved to compare the details
Q Dr. Collins, when you called Dr. Patrinos and talked about
meeting with Dr. Venter, what led you to believe he would be willing to
talk with you about a joint -- at that particular time.
DR. COLLINS: Well, I have to say, although it may not be a popular
statement in this room, that the focus on the race and the personality
issues that have been so prominently featured in press stories about the
genome have in many ways done a disservice to the situation. I don't
think the level of animosity or hostility was anything approaching the
way it was described in some of the pieces that Craig and I have had to
This is, after all, a noble enterprise. Sequencing our genomes
should not be something that is tarnished in some way by what appears to
be a cat fight amongst people who are involved in the enterprise. I
think both of us have felt disheartened by the way in which that so
dominated the public image of what was going on with the genome project.
With both of these projects, obviously proceeding extremely well,
there is a great opportunity here for sharing information after
publication; because of the complimentary nature of the scientific
strategies it seemed absolutely the right moment to sit down together
and try to figure out a model for cooperation and coordination so that
the public would be the greatest beneficiary and we could put behind us
this chapter, which I hope history will not be very interested in, which
has gone on for too many months and has really done a disservice to the
hard labors of thousands of people around the world who have been trying
to make this happen for the benefit of mankind.
MR. SIEWART: We have another event so we'll take one more
Q Dr. Venter, you have mentioned that Celera is working with
Pfizer, Amgen and other companies. Could you just, for a lay person,
explain what kind of work you are doing that comes out of the human
genome research? And also to kind of both of you, the President, in the
event, said that genetic science will realize the treatment and
prevention of almost all human diseases. When do you think that those
big kind of breakthroughs might start coming?
DR. VENTER: Let me try and answer the second question first. What
this information will do is cause a catalytic change in how researchers
do their work. Instead of funding the kind of programs that I spent 10
years doing, Dr. Collins spent 10 years doing, as you heard, those can
be reduced to between 15 seconds and two weeks. So the challenges now
for the scientific community to reassess how we fund science, and what
we're funding to make sure that this information now gets used as the
beginning of this new science.
There will discoveries made across the board. But it's impossible
to predict which diseases, at this point, will see the breakthroughs
first. What we know, from scientists studying the intricacies of the
genetic code and the genes that all of us are discovering will be the
new starting point for going much faster. And those discoveries will
build on each other.
So we certainly hope to begin to see things just in the next few
years. But some disease, and probably the ones we care about the most,
could take longer. They could be much more refractory because we have
to understand how the 50,000 or so genes work together to actually form
life. And that's never been possible to even contemplate before without
having the genetic code.
DR. COLLINS: Can I add to that? The reason I got interested in
genomics to begin with was, as a physician, this enormous frustration in
not understanding diseases well enough to be able to offer very much.
And when you look at what we currently know about things like
diabetes and heart disease and Alzheimers Disease, it's not nearly
sufficient to enable us to be able to design the strategies that we all
hope for that will really cure these illnesses. I would be willing to
make a predication that within 10 years, we will have the potential of
offering any of you the opportunity to find out what particular genetic
conditions you may be at increased risk for, based upon the discovery of
genes involved in common illnesses like diabetes, hypertension, heart
disease, and so on.
In many instances, that kind of predictive information could be
quite useful to you, provided we put in the appropriate protections so
that people don't use it against you. Because it would allow you to
practice individualized, preventive medicine, focusing on the things
that are most important for your health.
Over the longer term, perhaps in another 15 or 20 years, you will
see a complete transformation in therapeutic medicine, because every
pharmaceutical company is investing, and every biotech company is also
contributing to the development of new targets for drug therapy, based
upon the genome. And the therapies that we use 15 or 20 years from now
will be directed much more precisely towards the molecular problem in
things like cancer, or mental illness, than anything that we currently
So count on this happening. We've got to be patient -- well, maybe
we shouldn't be patient. We should be impatient, but I do think we have
to expect this is going to take a lot of hard work, a lot of good
research, a lot of funding for both the public and private sectors, a
lot of partnerships in ways that we have to be very creative about. But
the vision is a very exciting one.
DR. VENTER: Let me just briefly answer the first part of your
question, which is how do our pharmaceutical partners and subscribers
use this information. They're all linked in through virtual private
networks, through very high-speed lines that are in basically every time
zone around the world. They do searches on the data based on a daily,
sometimes minute-by-minute basis. They've already made some tremendous
discoveries in each of their own disease areas. And they're using some
of the genes right now to move forward; drug design and drug targeting.
Dr. Les Hudson from Pharmacia, one of the top pharmaceutical
companies in the world, he's the head of research there, he is one of
the earliest subscribers to the Celera database. He will be at the
12:30 p.m. press briefing. And he said he would be available for
answering questions about how the pharmaceutical industry is now using
But it's impossible to gauge every one of the possible ways that
they use it. That's why we just make the information available; some
very dramatic research tools where people can interpret the data and
make some very key discoveries. And every one of them have made some
pretty exciting discoveries that they will be announcing on their own
END 11:38 A.M. EDT