The joint immunodiagnostics business of Chiron Corp. and OrthoDiagnostics Systems Inc., Chiron/Ortho, has joined forces withPasteur Sanofi Diagnostics and Genetic Systems Corp. to create atriumvirate with a strong proprietary position in the HIVimmunodiagnostics business.

In addition, Chiron/Ortho has strengthened its hold on thehepatitis C virus (HCV) diagnostic market.

In a series of agreements announced Monday, the jointbusiness of Chiron and Ortho Diagnostics (a subsidiary ofJohnson & Johnson), Pasteur Sanofi Diagnostics of Paris andGenetic Systems Corp. (a subsidiary of Sanofi DiagnosticsPasteur Inc.) of Redmond, Wash., have cross-licensed oneanother under existing and future patent rights for themanufacture, use and sales of HIV-1 and HIV-2immunodiagnostic products worldwide.

Also, Chiron/Ortho has granted Pasteur Sanofi Diagnostics alimited license to manufacture, use and sell HCVimmunodiagnostics in Europe, Canada and Australia. PasteurSanofi Diagnostics also will have certain rights to distributeRIBA HCV tests (strip immunoblot assays licensed by FDA inJune) developed and marketed by Chiron/Ortho.

In addition, Chiron/Ortho will act as the exclusivemanufacturer's representative for Genetic Systems'immunodiagnostic products to blood and plasma centers in theU.S., and Genetic Systems will act as a manufacturer'srepresentative for Chiron/Ortho HCV immunodiagnostics tousers other than blood and plasma centers in the U.S.

No terms were disclosed, but the Chiron/Ortho joint businesswill pay a royalty to Pasteur Sanofi Diagnostics and GeneticSystems for the sale of HIV products and will earn a fee for thesale of Genetic Systems products. Pasteur Sanofi Diagnosticswill pay a royalty to Chiron/Ortho for the sale of HCVimmunodiagnostics and will earn a fee for the sale ofChiron/Ortho HCV products in the U.S.

These agreements seem to be the latest move by theChiron/Ortho immunodiagnostics joint business to dominateblood-screening markets worldwide.

In early October the British patents court ruled that Chiron'spatent claims for its HCV test are valid, although not currentlyenforceable. That ruling set off a suit by Chiron/Ortho againstMurex Diagnostics GmbH and Murex Diagnostics Ltd. forinfringing the patents in Germany.

On the home front, the Chiron/Ortho team announced on Oct. 28that it had won an exclusive three-year contract to supply theAmerican Red Cross with four of five mandatory blood virus-screening tests. These include screens for HCV antibodies,hepatitis B surface antigen, hepatitis B virus core antibodiesand antibodies to the retrovirus HTLV-1. In winning the RedCross contract, Chiron/Ortho unseated Abbott Laboratories,which had monopolized the business for 20 years.

But Abbott retained the right to supply the Red Cross with itsimmunodiagnostics for HIV-1 and HIV-2. Interestingly, Abbottnow licenses the rights to its HIV-2 blood screening test fromPasteur, according to Larry Kurtz, vice president of corporatecommunications at Chiron of Emeryville, Calif. "Abbott is theonly company in the world right now with a combination HIV-1 and HIV-2 assay," Kurtz explained.

The new agreement between Chiron/Ortho and Pasteur SanofiDiagnostics (which is a subsidiary of Elf Sanofi and the InstitutPasteur) "should reaffirm Abbott's need to take a license fromChiron," Kurtz added.

Chiron's stock (NASDAQ:CHIR) gained $2.50 a share on Monday,closing at $78.75.

-- Jennifer Van Brunt Senior Editor

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