Somatix Therapy Corp. said Wednesday that it has exclusiverights to a broad patent covering gene therapy that recentlyissued in Europe.

The patent covers the use of genetically modified epithelialcells as a delivery vehicle for genetic material, regardless ofthe mode of gene introduction. Thus, methods such ashomologous recombination, retroviral gene transfer and othersare covered by the patent. Epithelial cells line the inner andouter surfaces of organs.

In its cancer program, Somatix takes tumor cells, most ofwhich are epithelial, inactivates them so they can't replicate,and genetically modifies them by inserting a combination oflymphokines. The cells are returned to the patient, where thelymphokines hyperstimulate the immune system to rejecttumor cells throughout the body.

The patent issued on Oct. 2 to the Whitehead Institute. Somatixsaid it has rights to two similar Whitehead patents in theUnited States.

Somatix recently received two Phase I small businessinnovation research grants totaling $99,000 to further developits gene transfer technology.

A grant from the National Cancer Institute will be used todevelop improved reagents for the generation of retroviralparticles. The particles are the means by which geneticmaterial is inserted into cells.

The second grant, from the National Institute of Arthritis andMusculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, will be used to furtherdevelop a drug-delivery system to promote wound healing.

Somatix stock (NASDAQ:SOMA) closed Wednesday at $4.50, up44 cents.

Somatix is seeking corporate partners for its cancer programin the United States and Europe. The company is also hoping tofind partners for its other programs, including hemophilia,cardiovascular disease, diabetes and wound healing.

-- Karen Bernstein BioWorld Staff

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