Gene Logic's Chief Executive Revels in the `Risky' Business

Article excerpt

Mark D. Gessler is no mad scientist.

At 39, he runs Gene Logic Inc., a company that is in two of the hottest businesses at the moment: information technology and genetics.

In that role he's forever busy - especially these days. Friday he was named chairman of the company; today his company is releasing its first-quarter earnings report, which he said last week will meet Wall Street's expectations of steady growth.

The company is also in discussions with potential clients.

"We think that our pipeline of potential customers is the best it's ever been and it includes top pharmaceutical companies and biotech companies worldwide," says Mr. Gessler, who has started and seen into fruition six companies over the past two decades.

When big talk about genetic research began in the early 1990s, he saw the opportunity to build a business that would be both profitable and lead to the development of products that could forever change human life.

The result was Gene Logic, which sells subscriptions to its database of genomic research exploring the relationship between human genes and illnesses.

"Now that the [human] genome is sequenced, the next conquest, which will take a heck of a long time and it's extremely important, is to understand how genes are related to disease," says Mr. Gessler, a charming dark-haired Pittsburgh native.

Lounging in a conference room at Gene Logic's newest facility in Gaithersburg, the chief executive took time recently to tell The Washington Times about his business.

"We've built a database that tracks gene activity in human disease," he says. "We don't want to be in competition [with drug-developing biotechnology] companies. We want to enable them to do their work."

Since it was started in 1996, Gene Logic has signed up 16 clients, mostly large pharmaceutical and biotech companies. These subscriptions last up to three years and cost from $6 million to $16 million.

To build its database, the company collects thousands of human tissues from university hospitals. These tissues are studied and classified, as is the family history and habits of each of the subjects, explains Mr. Gessler, casual in a navy blazer, white shirt and khakis. So if a client wants to know what genes are involved in breast cancer, the client can search the database and even narrow it down by asking for a specific age group, habit (smoker, nonsmoker, level of caffeine or alcohol intake) and family medical history.

"Over time we're building up an e-human - like what would be the genomic representation of an average 44-year-old woman on estrogen therapy," Mr. …