Francis Collins on Craig Venter and Celera Genomics
  Francis Collins     Biography    
Recorded: 31 May 2003

Well, the whole Celera episode got presented to the public in a way that was, I think, unfortunate because it missed the point. What was the point here? So there was a competing private sector effort to sequence the human genome. So what did you read about? You read about the personalities. You read about who had a yacht and who had a motorcycle, that would be me. How they had different styles and how they didn’t like each other and how they didn’t go to the bar on Friday night and maybe they should have, It was so superficial. What was this really about? It was about ideals, this is important. It was about whether or not this fundamental information about ourselves ought to be a commodity that the private sector determines and then sells, or whether this is something that ought to be a gift to the world that’s available to everybody who has a good idea.

And hardly anyone noticed that that’s what it was really about. From the very day that Craig Venter announced he was starting this company with ABI to sequence the human genome, I think it was clear to anybody who had any business sense at all that that was not going to be given away even though it was presented as such, And if it was not going to be given away and if the existence of that private sector effort put into some jeopardy whether there would be a public effort then we were heading down a very dangerous path. And yet this was a hard one to know how to play out because me as a federal employee, I’m not in a position to be able to say a bad thing is happening here, a company is about to do something that might be bad for the future of the world cause that sounds unfriendly to the private sector. One of the things that I was most disturbed about is that this was played out then as a battle between the government, you know what that brings up in your mind don’t you, bureaucratic inefficiency and the private sector, oh, you know what that brings up in your mind; fast, quick, cheap, and that was not the real battle, and the descriptors of the two parties weren’t correct. So there was a sort of a compounding of misunderstanding of what was going on. It was not about that at all, it was about whether the data was going to be available or not.

Francis Collins earned a B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Virginia (1970), a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from Yale University (1974), and an M.D. from the University of North Carolina (1977). While a researcher at the University of Michigan (1984-1993), he pioneered “positional cloning” methods which resulted in the Collins team and their collaborators isolating the genes responsible for cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease, neurofibromatosis, and others.

In 1993 he accepted leadership of the Human Genome Project (HGP) by becoming Director of the National Center for Human Genome Research (NHGRI). With Dr. Collins as head of the NHGRI, the HGP attained its goal of sequencing all 3 billion base pairs of the human genome.

He has attended all of the Cold Spring Harbor meetings on genomics.