Genetic Therapy, Inc., a Gaithersburg biotechnology company, said yesterday that it has obtained exclusive rights to a gene that may be useful in treating cancer.
If the gene proves effective and safe in drug tests, the company would be able to sell a treatment for cancer that would include the gene and a system for getting it into the body.
The company signed an agreement yesterday with Cistron Biotechnology Inc. of Pine Brook, N.J., which has a patent to Interleukin-1 beta. Genetic Therapy will make an undisclosed payment to Cistron immediately as well as future royalty payments.
The company is collaborating with researchers in France, at the University of California, Los Angeles, and at Indiana University who are trying to cure kidney, leukemia and skin cancers.
In California, scientists are trying to determine whether certain cells, called lymphocytes, will act like heat-seeking missiles, zeroing in on cancer tumors when they are put in a person's blood stream.
If they can, scientists would implant genetically altered lymphocytes into cancer patients to fight the disease.
In addition, scientists are attempting to take a piece of a tumor out of a patient, inject the tumor cells with a "good" gene and then return the tumor cells to the body. The new gene would produce a protein to "eat" the tumor.
Genes are the hereditary instructions that control the development and function of the body. They determine everything from a person's hair color to his susceptibility to certain diseases.
Genetic Therapy already makes a system used to transport genes to a cell. With Cistron's patented technology, it could develop an integrated product for use in treating cancer.