Md. company buys rights to genes for cancer work Firm seeks therapy for colorectal illness

January 20, 1993|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,Staff Writer

Genetic Therapy Inc. said yesterday that it has acquired the rights to use two genes discovered by Dr. Bert Vogelstein, a nationally prominent Johns Hopkins University geneticist, for treating cancer using gene therapy.

The Gaithersburg-based company obtained the rights to p53 and DCC genes -- which suppress certain cancer cells -- from PharmaGenics Inc. of Allendale, N.J.

PharmaGenics, a private company founded in 1990, has the license for Dr. Vogelstein's pioneering work on colon and rectal cancer. The agreement with Genetic Therapy only covers the rights to use the genes for gene therapy cancer treatment.

Each of the genes is thought to suppress a cell's ability to grow out of control. It appears that when a gene mutates, some cells lose that control and small tumors -- the precursors of cancer -- begin to grow. In theory, colorectal cancer patients could be treated with a gene therapy that would give them back the normal p53 and DCC genes, thus controlling the cancer.

The financial arrangements of the deal were not disclosed, but a statement by the companies indicated that PharmaGenics would be involved in the development of the product.

"PharmaGenics and Genetic Therapy expect to collaborate on certain aspects of product development," a joint statement said. Neither company would discuss the agreement, citing a pending sale of stock by Genetic Therapy.

Both PharmaGenics and Genetic Therapy received substantial start-up capital from Health Care Investment Corp., a large venture capital firm in New Jersey.

Over the past decade, Dr. Vogelstein's team of researchers at Johns Hopkins has found that most colon and rectal cancers are triggered by five separate mutations over the course of 30 or 40 years. Dr. Vogelstein is credited with discovering the DCC gene and what the p53 gene's role is in the body.

Almost 160,000 people in the United States were diagnosed with colon and rectal cancers last year, and the diseases claimed an estimated 58,000 lives, second only to lung cancer.

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