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The emergence of commercial genomics: analysis of the rise of a biotechnology subsector during the Human Genome Project, 1990 to 2004

Ilse R Wiechers13*, Noah C Perin1 and Robert Cook-Deegan12

Author Affiliations

1 Center for Public Genomics, Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy, Duke University, Box 90141, Durham, NC 27708, USA

2 Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University, Box 90239, Durham, NC 27708, USA

3 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program, Yale School of Medicine and US Department of Veterans Affairs, 333 Cedar Street, PO Box 208088, New Haven, CT 06520-8088, USA

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Genome Medicine 2013, 5:83  doi:10.1186/gm487

Published: 20 September 2013



Development of the commercial genomics sector within the biotechnology industry relied heavily on the scientific commons, public funding, and technology transfer between academic and industrial research. This study tracks financial and intellectual property data on genomics firms from 1990 through 2004, thus following these firms as they emerged in the era of the Human Genome Project and through the 2000 to 2001 market bubble.


A database was created based on an early survey of genomics firms, which was expanded using three web-based biotechnology services, scientific journals, and biotechnology trade and technical publications. Financial data for publicly traded firms was collected through the use of four databases specializing in firm financials. Patent searches were conducted using firm names in the US Patent and Trademark Office website search engine and the DNA Patent Database.


A biotechnology subsector of genomics firms emerged in parallel to the publicly funded Human Genome Project. Trends among top firms show that hiring, capital improvement, and research and development expenditures continued to grow after a 2000 to 2001 bubble. The majority of firms are small businesses with great diversity in type of research and development, products, and services provided. Over half the public firms holding patents have the majority of their intellectual property portfolio in DNA-based patents.


These data allow estimates of investment, research and development expenditures, and jobs that paralleled the rise of genomics as a sector within biotechnology between 1990 and 2004.