WASHINGTON -- The National Institutes of Health will makepublic in a few weeks its patent application for 2,400 partialcDNA sequences, Reid Adler, head of NIH's Office of TechnologyTransfer, said Thursday.
The agency, which last June initiated its controversial policy offiling for patents on human gene sequences, on Wednesdayfiled a second application. According to Adler, the filingconsolidates the 500 cDNA fragments in the earlier applicationwith some 1,900 new sequences derived from the brain.
The NIH has said that debate over the patent applications willhelp identify the best ways to transfer government-fundedtechnology. In announcing the latest filing, NIH DirectorBernadine Healy said it also was seeking ways to ensure U.S.competitiveness and provide "an even playing field" forinternational research.
On Thursday, Adler told BioWorld that small portions of theapplications will not be disclosed because they contain datathat has not been published. The NIH has supported its filingsby arguing that patent protection would be impossible toobtain once its discoveries had been published.
According to Adler, the new application includes additionalexamples of potential uses of the fragments, such asdifferentiating human brain tissue from other tissue and asunique markers for specific chromosomes.
He said the Industrial Biotechnology Association and theAssociation of Biotechnology Companies have seen copies of theJune application. Although the trade groups have not formallysupported the NIH's position, Adler said their intellectualproperty committees have encouraged the NIH to pursue theapplications.
Richard Godown, president of the IBA, said he will recommendthat its board of directors vote next week to officially supportthe NIH. The IBA has consulted with intellectual propertyattorneys, who said that the application "is the right thing to doin order to protect American interests," he said.
However, Godown said, the NIH should engage in "long anddetailed discussions about what should be done with theserights."
On Wednesday, Healy reiterated NIH statements that it has notmade a final decision to patent the sequences. She said thatfiling kept open the option of seeking patent protection whilediscussions with industry, government and academia areconcluded.
She said that the Federal Coordinating Council on Science,Engineering and Technology (FCCST), part of the White HouseOffice of Science and Technology Policy, intends to hold publichearings on the mushrooming intellectual property issues.
-- Steve Usdin BioWorld Washington Bureau
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