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Computers Quicken Pace of Race for Cures

Pharmaceutical and Biotech Firms Rely on Sophisticated Software to Identify Origins of Genetic Disease


Incyte Pharmaceuticals in Palo Alto also offers software and access to its library of human gene sequences. Incyte CEO Roy A. Whitfield said his company intends to complete the job at an even faster pace--by the end of next year.

The specialized software and high-speed sequencing of genes are at the center of what Whitfield calls the "industrialization of medical research."

And with the explosion of raw information, he said, big drug companies will find themselves spending more on computer hardware and software than they do on gene sequencing.


Times staff writer Paul Jacobs can be reached via e-mail at


How Computers Aid in Gene Research and Drug Discovery

1. Sequencing Genes: Today automated machines do the laborious job of spelling out, letter by letter, millions of tiny overlapping DNA fragments that make up the human genome. Computer software is needed to reject obvious misspellings, identify overlaps and piece together the bits of code in their proper order.

2. Comparing Diseased and Normal Tissue: Researchers test both the normal and diseased tissue for the presence of thousands of genes, and the software sorts out which genes are activated in the diseased cells.

3. Hunting for Proteins: By translating the DNA code, software programs describe the chemical makeup of a target protein produced by a newly discovered gene. Next, the software combs through databases to find similar substances and make intelligent guesses about the purpose of the newly discovered molecule.

4. Identifying Promising Drugs: Highly sophisticated programs try to visualize how a protein produced by a gene looks in three dimensions and then search for small molecules that might stick to the surface of the protein or fit into crevices in order to block the protein's action.

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