Chiron Corp.'s patent on hepatitis C virus (HCV) has issued inEurope.

Moreover, the Japanese Patent Office has made an initialdecision to grant Chiron's claims on its first Japanese patentapplication on HCV, which was published for opposition(Kokoku) in mid-November.

The European Patent Office granted Chiron's patent, publicationNo. 0 318 216, on Wednesday. The patent claims are broad andcover structural and non-structural antigenic HCV polypeptidesproduced by any method, HCV antibodies, the use of suchpolypeptides and antibodies in immunoassays, HCVpolynucleotides, the use of such polynucleotides in recombinantprotein expression, DNA probe tests and PCR tests,pharmaceutical compositions (such as vaccines containingpolypeptides), and methods for growing HCV in tissue-culture.

These claims are similar to those granted in Chiron's(NASDAQ:CHIR) HCV patent in the United Kingdom (GB No.2,212,511).

In October, ruling on a patent infringement suit filed by Chironagainst Murex Diagnostics Ltd., Organon Teknika Ltd. andUnited Biomedical Inc., the Patents Court of the British HighCourt of Justice determined that the claims in this patent arevalid in the U.K., with the exception of certain vaccine andtissue culture claims.

The Japanese Kokoku claims on application No. 1-500565 aredirected to proteins and immunoassays that incorporateantigenic fragments as small as eight amino acids of the HCVsequence disclosed in the patent application. That sequencecontains approximately 80 percent of the HCV genome. Chironhas other pending Japanese patent applications directed to theremaining 20 percent.

Once a Japanese patent application is published for opposition,the applicant receives the exclusive rights to exploit theclaimed invention, including the right to begin infringementproceedings.

"The granting of the European patent and the Japanese Kokokureinforces Chiron's proprietary HCV position in two of thelargest markets for HCV immunoassays, " said Edward Penhoet,chief executive officer of Chiron of Emeryville, Calif. "We willcontinue to take action against parties that infringe ourposition."

The HCV test is currently Chiron's biggest product. Thecompany manufactured more than 100 million HCV tests in1993. It brought in $39.2 million in pretax profits for the firsthalf of 1993, and $74 million in pretax profits in fiscal 1992.

Chiron's partner in the HCV immunodiagnostics area is OrthoDiagnostics Systems Inc., a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson. InOctober, the Chiron/Ortho team won an exclusive three-yearcontract to supply the American Red Cross with four of fivemandatory blood virus-screening tests, including for HCV. Andin November, Chiron/Ortho granted Pasteur Sanofi Diagnostics alimited license to manufacture, use and sell HCVimmunodiagnostics in Europe, Canada and Australia.

At the same time, Chiron/Ortho lined up Genetic Systems as themanufacturer's representative for HCV immunodiagnostics tousers other than blood and plasma centers in the U.S.

Chiron's stock lost 25 cents a share on Wednesday, closing at$77.50.

-- Jennifer Van Brunt Senior Editor

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