By Lisa Seachrist

Washington Editor

WASHINGTON ¿ Seeking to undo the damage he¿d done to the biotech sector in mid-March, President Clinton reaffirmed his support for gene patents, while speaking at a White House Conference on the New Economy.

The president used the conference to clarify his position that the basic information unearthed via the Human Genome Project should be widely available, as it currently is. He also noted when researchers discover a commercial application, they ¿ought to be able to get a patent on it.¿

¿On the patent thing, you know, Tony Blair and I crashed the market there for a day and I didn¿t mean to,¿ Clinton said.

In an endorsement of the Patent and Trademark Office, he stated the administration had the people with the skills and experience necessary to draw the line in the right place.

The news from the conference had the desired effect, as genomics stocks surged ahead. The big winner was Rockville, Md.-based Celera Genomics, with its stock (NYSE:CRA) closing Wednesday at $115, up $41.375, or 56 percent.

Among genomics companies gaining 17 percent to 20 percent Wednesday were Cambridge, Mass.-based Millennium Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:MLNM), which closed at $143.359, up $21.359; Rockville, Md.-based Human Genome Sciences Inc. (NASDAQ:HGSI), which closed at $97, up $16; and Palo Alto, Calif.-based Incyte Genomics Inc. (NASDAQ:INCY), which gained $14.187 to close at $94.625.

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