By Jim Shrine

Aurora Biosciences Corp. and Clontech Laboratories Inc. entered into an agreement to commercialize mutant green fluorescent proteins (GFPs) in an arrangement Aurora expects will help clarify the use of those research tools.

Aurora also hopes the arrangement will help bring in revenues it is missing from the unauthorized use of GFPs, which have wide applicability in biotechnology research and drug discovery.

Clontech, of Palo Alto, Calif., will be the worldwide licensee to supply certain GFP technology to all customers doing non-commercial research. Use of the technology for commercial purposes would require a license from Aurora, of San Diego.

Clontech will pay an up-front technology access fee to Aurora and royalties on those sales. Aurora officials likened the technology to computer software ¿ and its use, sometimes, to the piracy of that software.

¿We have a moral and contractual obligation to supply the academic community doing basic research with these mutants,¿ said Timothy Rink, Aurora¿s chairman, president and CEO. ¿One of the reasons we¿re working with Clontech is it has established an effective marketing strategy, and that is a good way to supply the academic research market.

¿But we have reason to believe that a large number of biotech and pharmaceutical companies are using GFPs,¿ Rink said, although only six are doing so under a license from Aurora. ¿If they are using our technology, which we have invested millions in developing, we expect a fair rent.

¿If they are using our reagents, we expect to enter into productive and rational license agreements,¿ he said. ¿We have reason to believe some parties are, and if they are, we¿d like to sit down and talk with them to come to a fair arrangement. We believe this will clarify the intellectual property situation.¿

Genomics Is Among The Applications

John Mendlein, Aurora¿s general counsel and vice president of intellectual property, said the technology ¿can be used a lot of different ways in the biomedical research community, as well as the biotech community. It has strong application in genomics, in looking at protein-protein interactions, reporter gene assays and protease assays for apoptosis. Another big area is looking at gene regulation and expression during development. You use it as a tag to see which genes are turned on by stimuli or changes in environment or an event during development.¿

Rink said GFPs are a ¿significant but not substantial part of our revenue goals for this year. We think it is a very important part of our commercialization strategy as a company.

¿We think it is very important to establish technologies that become a major application used around the industry,¿ he added, calling the strategy ¿a way we can enter into perhaps deeper relationships than licensing, either with provider companies or with customers who may want more than just to license the technology, but work with us in a more formal collaboration to enhance their use of the technology.¿

Aurora¿s stock (NASDAQ:ABSC) gained 21.8 cents per share Thursday to close at $8.218. n