Systems biology, a siren in a sea of dark prospects, has lured investors frustrated with low returns in biotechnology and anxious to set a new course of drug discovery. Institutions have also geared up training programs, but the excitement in the new field has failed to arrest downsizing in the biotech industry.

Major research institutions and pharmaceutical companies, including AstraZeneca, Novartis, and Eli Lilly and Company, are implementing systems biology in the hopes of slashing drug discovery costs by more carefully selecting clinical subjects. "Patient-specific knowledge earlier will pay huge dividends later," says Steven Burrill, CEO of the life sciences merchant bank, Burrill & Company, in San Francisco.

Despite the interest of the pharmaceutical industry, prospective systems biologists should think carefully before investing in training in hopes of landing a job in the new field. Biotechnology companies have downsized, flooding the market with scientists, says Marnie MacDonald, CEO of Odyssey...

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