After most gene discoveries the past two years by researchers at othercompanies and institutions, Human Genome Sciences Inc. CEOWilliam Haseltine has been fond of saying his firm already has aportion of the sequence in its data base and a clone in the freezer.

Haseltine's rejoinder to such scientific announcements is in keepingwith his Rockville, Md., company's estimates it has sequences for 90percent of the estimated 100,000 genes in the human genome.

"Since August 1994," Haseltine said Wednesday, "when isolates ofnew genes are reported, 85 to 90 percent of the time we have thegene."

This week Human Genome Sciences reported some proof of itsclaims with awards for U.S. patents on three genes that may havelinks to diseases.

They are the first human gene patents received by the company,which in 1993 negotiated a $125 million collaboration withSmithKline Beecham plc in return for giving the London-basedpharmaceutical firm rights to use the genetic data for drugdevelopment.

Each issued patent, Haseltine said, includes the full length gene, theprotein it encodes, the general activity and a proposed medical utility.

"This is the first very positive step for moving from gene discovery todrug development," Haseltine said.

Human Genome Sciences, he added, has 150 gene patent applicationsfiled in the U.S. and 40 submissions published in Europe.

The three U.S. patents issued this week cover genes for osteoclast-derived cathepsin, macrophage inflammatory protein-4 andsuperoxide dismutase-4.

The osteoclast-derived cathepsin gene encodes a protease used byosteoclast cells to breakdown bone. Osteoclasts are part of the body'snatural bone growth and degradation process, which when out ofbalance can result in osteoporosis, or too much bone loss.

SmithKline has identified compounds that inhibit the protease, calledcathepsin K, in an attempt to block bone degradation. Animal studiesshowed the compounds were effective. However, a SmithKlinespokesman Wednesday declined to say when a lead compound wouldenter clinical trials.

The gene encoding macrophage inflammatory protein-4, orchemokine beta-7, is involved in regulating white blood cells and theprotein may be valuable as a mediator in inflammatory diseases. Thesuperoxide dismutase-4 gene expresses a protein that protects tissuesfrom oxidative damage.

Both genes, Haseltine said, have potential as therapeutic proteins andare being studied by SmithKline for their molecular utility.

Human Genome Sciences reported the U.S. patent awards Tuesdayand its stock (NASDAQ:HGSI) gained $2 to close at $40.25. Thecompany ended Wednesday down $1 to $39.25. n

-- Charles Craig

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.