Britain's High Court has ruled in favor of Chiron Corp., OrthoDiagnostics Ltd. and Ortho Diagnostics Inc. in their suit alleging thatMurex Diagnostics Ltd. and Organon Teknika Ltd. infringed onChiron's British patent for sequencing of the hepatitis C virus (HCV).The court also ordered that damages be assessed against Murex andOrganon at a later date.Murex has not conceded defeat. Instead, it has asked Britain's Court ofAppeals to invalidate Chiron's patent (number GB 2,212,511). Ifnecessary, Murex will take the case to the House of Lords, Britain'shighest judicial body, said Marcia Young, the company's director ofcorporate communications.Chiron and Raritan, N.J.-based Ortho are equal partners in thedevelopment of the HCV diagnostic test. In 1993 Chiron's share of theworldwide revenues from the sale of this test amounted to $65 million.The High Court will hold another hearing on the case in November.Chiron said the hearing is to decide its case for an injunction againstfurther infringement. Murex said the hearing is "to determine whetherthe public interest is best served by continuing to permit the availabilityof the Murex anti-HCV tests to detect hepatitis C in the blood supply."Murex Diagnostics is the English subsidiary of Norcross, Ga.-basedInternational Murex Technologies Corp. On Tuesday, Murex said theHigh Court's ruling "was merely a clarification of a previous rulingand presented no new substantive facts pertaining to the Chiron-Murexpatent dispute." Young pointed out that no injunction had been orderedin an Oct. 5, 1993 hearing and was not ordered in the new ruling. "Sowe can continue to manufacture and sell our product in the U.K."Larry Kurtz, Chiron's vice president for corporate communications,dismissed the idea that the High Court's ruling was a "clarification" ofthe Oct. 5 ruling. "In that case, the judge said we had a valid patentinfringement claim but could not enforce it because of aspects of ourrelationship with Ortho. We fixed that. And this time the judge said thepatent is enforceable and we should be awarded damages. That is not aclarification. Murex is interested in preserving its business but the courthas taken another step toward taking these products off the market."Kurtz said the only argument left to Murex was the public interestargument. And he said it has no validity because an anti-HCVdiagnostic test made by Abbott Laboratories competes againstChiron's. "Even though Abbott is our licensee and pays us a royalty, itis a completely different product," Kurtz said.Emeryville, Calif.-based Chiron's U.K. patent covers HCV sequencing,HCV technology including antigenic HCV polypeptides regardless ofthe method of production and HCV antibodies, their use inimmunoassays, and HCV polynucleotides and their use in recombinantprotein expression, DNA probe tests, and polymerase chain reactiontests.The company is pursuing patent infringement suits for the HCV testsagainst Murex in Germany and Australia, and against Organon in theNetherlands and Italy. Chiron's HCV test is also sold in the U.S. andJapan, but patents have not been issued in those countries.Young refused to disclose how much Murex earns from the sale of itsHCV tests. She said the amount was substantial but would not mean theend of the company if the company is prevented from marketing itstests. She said the tests have been marketed since 1992 and are sold inmore than 30 countries.A spokesman for Organon could not be reached for comment.

-- Philippa Maister

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