The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has rejected claims to apatent application for genetically modified fibroblast cells thathas been exclusively licensed to Somatix Therapy Corp., thecompany announced on Tuesday.

The patent application is for the fibroblasts, methods of makingthem and their use in gene therapy. Fibroblasts are connectivetissue cells.

The Alameda, Calif., company has three months in which tosubmit additional information to the PTO to support its claims,said John Archer, executive vice president. "We as a companystill feel confident that we will have claims issue," Archer said.

Somatix shares (NASDAQ:SOMA) fell $1 to $10.75.

The technology covered by the patent application, developedby Richard Mulligan, has been licensed to Somatix by theWhitehead Institute at the Massachusetts Institute ofTechnology.

In 1990, the PTO declared the Mulligan patent to be ininterference with an application from the Fred HutchinsonCancer Research Center in Seattle. The interference wasdissolved in December, and the Mulligan patent was returnedto the patent examiner with instructions to issue certain claims.The examiner then decided to re-examine the claims, saidArcher.

Somatix still has another patent application covering fibroblastcells. That patent was licensed from the Salk Institute of LaJolla, Calif., by Genesys Therapeutics Corp., which merged withSomatix in November.

Somatix is looking at the utility of different cell types for genetherapy in addition to fibroblasts, including epithelial cells,endothelial cells, myoblasts and hepatocytes. The cells wouldbe removed from patients and used as targets for geneticmodification.

While the company's central nervous system program, which isfocused on Parkinson's disease, has relied mainly onfibroblasts, Somatix is still comparing various cell types, Archersaid. "There's not a total reliance on fibroblast cell types forany program."

Somatix this month raised $34.5 million in a secondary offeringof 3 million shares of common stock at $11.50 per share. Thecompany plans to enter the clinic late this year with a cancertreatment consisting of inactivated tumor cells that have beengenetically modified by inserting lymphokines.

Hutchinson officials weren't available for comment.

-- Karen Bernstein BioWorld Staff

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