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Three things to ponder: Off loading the flotsam of the editorial mind
07-26-2005
by Chris Anderson  |  Email the author
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Sometimes as an editor you have too many things rattling around in your head. So consider this my mid-summer cleaning...
 
Front and center is the acquisition of Vicuron Pharmaceuticals by Pfizer for the tidy sum of $1.9 billion. Vicuron shareholders got a nifty one-day 84 percent increase in their share values based on Pfizer's offer and there were howls that perhaps the largest pharmaceutical company in the world had overpaid in an attempt to shore up a revenue stream sagging from recent (and pending) patent expirations.
On the face of it, you could argue it is true that Pfizer paid too much. That is until you take a couple of other things into consideration.
 
First, Vicuron stock took a big hit last year when the company announced clinical delays of one of the anti-infection therapies key to the deal, anidulafungin. Back then, in May 2004, Vicuron traded for $23 to $24 a share and eventually dropped as low as $8.76 last September after all the "bad" news. In short, folks who have been holding on to their Vicuron shares since early 2004 will get about a 20 percent return on their money, which, by the way, is probably a more accurate read on the premium paid by Pfizer for two late-stage drugs.
 
Second, reports indicate this was not a purchase worked out between two companies seeking market benefit from an alliance, as so many are. This was an auction and Pfizer just happened to be the high bidder. And why shouldn't they be? Diflucan sales are flagging in the face of generic competition, Zithromax and Norvasc are in the twilight of patent protection and blockbuster Lipitor has about six more years of patent protection. So with two patent expirations on the horizon, Pfizer made a good move by shoring up its portfolio with two significant late-stage drugs, which should begin adding revenue as early as next year.
 
Also in this issue are two stories of interest in the area of informatics. Tripos announced it was embracing service-oriented informatics while Agilent Technologies announced it was acquiring informatics provider Scientific Software Inc. Hidden, only slightly, in these two stories was the fact that both SSI and Tripos are ideological brethren in that both companies support an open, non proprietary, architecture for their products by using Web services.
 
In practical terms, this means that information generated from any of the software of these two companies can be easily used by analytical software from other companies.
 
It is a right-minded approach to business, in my estimation, as it essentially unlocks critical data that not too long ago would have remained on a virtual island. The days of critical data sets locked away on a single workstation, in a single lab are seriously threatened as scientists now understand the value of the data at the lab down the hall (or in the next time zone) and how it can be used in their work. Meanwhile the pharma and biotech companies themselves are also getting with the picture as they see that all this generated data has more value when used multiple times and, in fact, this very knowledge base, these chemical and biological models, are at the very heart of the company's intrinsic value and ought to be leveraged to the fullest extent.
 
In days past, trying to use data from informatics packages written in two different programming languages was a Herculean task. Now with Web services translating that data into a standard format scientists can stop worrying about how to get the data to work they can instead wonder how they are going to use it.
 
That's a big difference.
 
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't make at least some comment about the latest deployment of IBM's eServer Blue Gene supercomputer. Now at the disposal of noted neuroscientist Henry Markram at The Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland, the supercomputer deployed for this project dubbed "Blue Brain" is capable of 22.8 trillion floating point operations per second. With it, Markram and his team will take the first steps toward building a computer model of the neocortex. Findings from this work over the coming years should be fascinating, as the team starts its modeling at the molecular level then advances to understanding how the brain recognizes patterns and beyond.
 
I am taken by how this project is a triumph of the mind and imagination. As Ajay Royyuru says, when IBM started the task of creating a supercomputer that could handle such incredibly complex computing tasks they didn't even know if what they imagined was possible.
 
Now, someday, we may actually understand how the brain functioned to produced such a dream.

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