By Mary Welch

Invitrogen Corp. established a new division for functional genomic studies that the Carlsbad, Calif., company expects may add $20 million to its bottom line by the end of 1999 and will become a significant part of the company's business.

The division, for now called Invitrogenomics, will apply Invitrogen's gene cloning and expression technologies to take the company into an entirely new direction. Right now, the 160-person firm manufactures and sells its technologies to research scientists. The company wants to get into genomics itself and, with collaborative partners, use its technology to participate in the research with its own scientists. Invitrogen is interested in drug discovery, diagnostic development and crop enhancement.

"Once you have a tool chest available to you for research, it becomes a different issue on how to apply those tools," said Lyle Turner, president and CEO. "We want to use our tools — our technology — to help unravel the function and regulation of genes. There's a huge amount of genomic information made available and there's a wide variety of applications to those genes."

Gene Cloning Services For Hire

The division also will serve as an outsourcing firm to clone genes for other companies. The company's Accelerated Cloning Technology is a high-throughput cloning system and its speed is of significant value to commercial customers in the pharmaceutical, diagnostic, agricultural and industrial microbiology markets.

Invitrogen has used its cloning technology to package genes in expression vectors. The genes come freeze-dried and vacuum packed (just like coffee) in a small vial. It costs a laboratory between $500 to $1,200 to clone a gene for expression — if the lab has the gene. These ready-made clones will eliminate that time-consuming step.

So far the company has cloned all 6,000 genes of the yeast genome into two different expression vectors with almost 2,500 protein expressions demonstrated. The company also is developing a line of human genes and hopes to have 1,500 genes cloned by year's end. So far 420 have been cloned.

The division's budget for this year is about $5 million but the figure will grow substantially over the next few years.

"I've made a job offer for someone to be the president of the company and we should have a person in place by the end of July," said Turner. "We have about 40 scientists working and will be doing more hiring. We expect the staff will double next year and then double again in 2000."

Turner anticipates the new division, which through 1999 will be housed in the company's headquarters, may reach about $20 million in revenues by that time.

Invitrogen predicts 1998 revenues of $32 million, which is 30 percent higher than its 1997 figures. It anticipates 1999 revenues will be between 40 and 50 percent greater than this year's. *