Call the 1990s the decade of molecular biology and genetics. A healthy chunk of academic funding has gone to these disciplines as they ferret out new genes and molecular mechanisms, and it has everyone talking of the new paradigm in drug discovery. All of those genes and all of that information will make 20th century medicine primitive by 21st century standards. At least that's what some say.

Others say drug discovery is at something of a crossroads. The exploding numbers of potential receptor targets that molecular biologists are turning up provide only the beginning of the drug discovery process.

"Merck has more targets in bottles than I ever saw in my life," says Ronald J. Shebusky, an industry consultant and a former pharmacologist at Merck. "The question is, what are they going to do with them?" To start moving toward a drug, Merck and every other pharmaceutical and biotech...

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