Genetic Therapy Inc., a Gaithersburg biotechnology company, said yesterday it was confident that the company's research efforts would not suffer if a pioneering researcher with whom it has a close relationship leaves the National Institutes of Health.
Science magazine reported yesterday that Dr. W. French Anderson, the current chief of the Molecular Hematology Branch of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute at NIH, might be leaving NIH for personal reasons.
Genetic Therapy has collaborated with Dr. Anderson on several human gene therapy trials that will continue for several years.
"Whether I remain at the NIH or take a post elsewhere, I am strongly commited to Genetic Therapy and expect to continue my relationship," Dr. Anderson said in a statement provided by the company. "The cooperative research agreements between the NIH and GTI have been productive in advancing the applications of human gene therapy and I expect to continue our efforts together." Dr. Anderson, who has no financial stake in the company, was not available for comment yesterday.
"I don't expect a negative effect on the company," said Reijer Lenstra, an analyst with Montgomery Securities. "It doesn't depend only on Mr. Anderson."
Genetic Therapy, traded over-the-counter, closed yesterday at $8 a share, unchanged for the day.
Founded in 1986, Genetic Therapy is developing treatments for a number of serious illnesses, including cancer, cystic fibrosis, cardio-vascular disease and hemophilia.
Through research contracts with the NIH, the company has been involved in leading research in how to treat patients by inserting new genes into their bodies.
Using a delivery system created by Genetic Therapy, Dr. Anderson began the world's first gene therapy in September 1990 on a girl with a rare and typically fatal immune system disorder called adenosine deaminase deficiency. Since then, she and a second girl have improved after being given white blood cells containing the genes their bodies lacked.
The company and NIH have been given federal approval to begin treatments on patients with leukemia and a type of kidney cancer. The company also is developing gene therapy with researchers at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis and scientists in Lyon, France.
In the past several months, Genetic Therapy has acquired licenses for the use of three genes, giving the company the potential to market a gene therapy subject to approval by the Food and Drug Administration.
The company recently raised $21 million in a public stock offering.