CAMBRIDGE, March 26¾With the mapping of the human genome last year, many public relations experts see the biotechnology arena as primed for considerable growth. Both Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide and GCI Group made acquisitions in biotech last year, and most healthcare practices are expanding their capabilities in anticipation of new business opportunities in an industry that is expected to develop new products and face challenging issues.

Technology specialist FitzGerald Communications is coming at biotech from a different direction, however. The firm has launched a new biotech capability, but it will focus specifically on those firms that can benefit from its high-tech background. Initial clients include Signature BioScience, MDS Proteomics, Insightful and Corixa—all of which are hoping to distinguish themselves on the basis of their technology.

Signature Biometrics has developed a technology platform for functional proteomics, derived from telecommunications systems and the computer chip industry, opening a new window on biological processes. MDS Proteomics is working to determine how proteins function at the cellular level by understanding their interaction. Insightful is a leading provider of solutions for predictive analysis, data mining, and business intelligence to pharmaceutical industries. And Corixa is a developer of immunotherapeutics for treating and preventing autoimmune diseases, cancer and infectious diseases by understanding and directing the immune system.

“Three years ago, we recognized that the value created for technology companies through their corporate communications programs could translate into a biotech program,” said Jim DeNike, director of corporate communications for Corixa. “Since that time, our partnership with FitzGerald has proven the validity of this approach.”

According to agency CEO Maura FitzGerald, “As silicon technology becomes an important element in advancing biotechnology, savvy biotech companies realize that to ultimately succeed in improving the human condition through medical advances, they must apply technology innovations to traditional scientific research methods.” 

“Recent developments in the fields of genomics, proteomics and drug discovery—and the subsequent need for increased computing power to store, process and analyze the vast amounts of information and complex databases they continuously create —underscore the opportunity to bring technology to bear in furthering scientific endeavors.”

            John Berard, who heads the San Francisco office of FitzGerald, admits the firm does not know how large the market for its highly specialized offering will be. “We have four clients right now, and if the entire market turns out to be only another four companies, we’re comfortable with that,” he says. 
            And he believes the biotech business can be serviced by FitzGerald’s existing account staff. “It will require an expanded view of the technology business,” he says. “The ability to effectively represent a bio-infometrics company requires a different perspective than the ability to represent a data mining company, even though both deal with large databases and depend for their success on their ability to manage large amounts of data, because the application of the technology is very different.”