Chiron Corp. on Tuesday said it has received word from theBritish patent office that it will be issued a broad patentcovering the hepatitis C virus, its antibodies and relatedcompounds.

The patent covers the antigenic viral polypeptides -- regardlessof the method of production -- antibodies to the virus, and useof both in immunoassays.

Also covered are the composition of virus polynucleotides andtheir use in recombinant proteins, and tests for the virus basedon DNA probes and polymerase chain reaction, as well asvaccines based on all these molecules. It will issue on Jan. 22.

Chiron, based in Emeryville, Calif., in 1987 characterized thevirus that causes hepatitis C. With Ortho Diagnostic SystemsInc., a unit of Johnson & Johnson, the company has developed atest to detect HCV antibodies, now in use worldwide for bloodscreening.

Biocine Co., Chiron's joint venture with Ciba-Geigy Ltd., isdeveloping vaccine candidates for HCV, which are in preclinicaltesting.

Spokesman Larry Kurtz said, "We believe the existing marketfor hepatitis B vaccine is a good starting point" for gauging thesize of the market for an HCV vaccine. He said worldwide salesof hepatitis B vaccines by Chiron, marketed by Merck andSmithKline Beecham, exceed $200 million.

The company said it expects other broad patents for HCV toissue in other countries. Its stock (NASDAQ:CHIR) closedunchanged at $62.50 on Tuesday. -- RF

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