Mouse patent has rights groups fumingThe mouse that...

LIFE SCIENCES

February 16, 1993|By Liz Bowie

Mouse patent has rights groups fuming

The mouse that roared? Animal rights groups and environmentalists protested in Munich recently after Harvard University received a European patent for its genetically engineered mouse.

The mouse, which was the first transgenic animal to be patented in the United States, is used exclusively for medical research. It was endowed with human genetic material so that it and its offspring are predisposed to developing cancer.

"This patent places mammals on the same level as air pumps, bottle caps and steam engines," said veterinarian Christoph Thenn, who is the leader of the protest campaign in Germany, according to Reuters.

The same kind of protest was seen in the United States five years ago when the mouse received its patent here. And until recently, it was the only transgenic animal that had been patented in this country.

But the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office broke its long moratorium on patenting animals and in December issued patents for three more mice to be used in different types of research.

The move is likely to encourage biotechnology companies to develop other types of transgenic animals, such as cattle and pigs.

Piper adds specialists in life sciences

Piper & Marbury is beefing up its life sciences expertise with the addition of a group of lawyers from the Washington firm of Pepper, Hamilton & Scheetz. The lawyers -- Edwin M. Martin Jr., Frederick J. McConville and Nancy Spangler Devine -- specialize in representing emerging companies and venture capital funds.

Scios plans final tests by '94 for three drugs

Scios Nova Inc. plans to have three drugs in the final stages of testing within the next year and a half. Tests on Auriculin, the company's drug to treat acute kidney failure, could be finished in 1994.

If the drugs are approved by the Food and Drug Administration, they would provide the Mountain View, Calif.-based company some of its first products.

Speaking to an audience at a Merrill Lynch Global Securities pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry seminar in New York last week, Scios Nova CEO Richard I. Casey said the company is looking to acquire product licensing rights as a way to boost revenues.

But he expects the company to have two or three products on the market in the next five years, to generate $400 million in sales and $100 million in profits. Mr. Casey, head of the company that combined with Nova Pharmaceutical Inc. of Baltimore in September, also said Scios Nova hopes to have several drugs awaiting FDA approval by then.

Meanwhile, a 19 percent reduction in the company's Baltimore work force has almost been completed. Linda Hardnet, director of administration in Baltimore, said most of the 65 employees who were laid off have found jobs in the area. Some of the most highly skilled went to research facilities and companies in Research Triangle Park in North Carolina and to biotechnology companies in the Maryland suburbs of Washington.

Two hospitals to try reusable gowns

Two Baltimore hospitals are returning to an old standby that hasn't been seen in operating rooms recently -- reusable surgical gowns. The gowns, made by a Tampa-based company, AMSCO Sterile Recoveries Inc., could save the Greater Baltimore Medical Center and the Maryland Shock Trauma Center money and reduce the amount of medical waste sent to local landfills.

Disposable gowns and boots became popular when doctors and nurses began fearing they could be infected with diseases such as AIDS if blood soaked through a gown. The disposables could preclude any contact with the blood and reusables with the same protection were so warm that they weren't comfortable, according to GBMC spokeswoman Vivienne Stearns-Elliott.

Returning to reusables will save GBMC about $35,000 a year, she said, including the elimination of a significant amount of disposable waste. The hospital uses about 1,500 gowns a week.

AMSCO says its gowns, made of a material similar to GORE-TEX, are protective and comfortable. And AMSCO has set up a processing facility in Elkridge where it will decontaminate used gowns and return them to the hospitals. The plant has 40 workers, and employment is expected to increase to 100, AMSCO says.

Hopkins' Vogelstein shares science award

Bert Vogelstein, director of the molecular genetics laboratory at the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center, will share a National Academy of Sciences award for "extraordinary achievement in biology and medicine" with Stanley B. Prusiner, professor of neurology at the University of California San Francisco.

Dr. Vogelstein has devised a test to detect colon cancer by sampling a person's stool for specific genes. Dr. Prusiner shares the award for his work in an unrelated field.

The academy medal, to be awarded on April 26, comes with a $50,000 prize and $20,000 travel stipend.

New Enterprise invests in Md., Va. companies

Two weeks ago, this column gave incomplete information about the investments of New Enterprise Associates, a Baltimore venture capital firm. In fact, the firm and associated partners have invested $86 million in companies in Maryland and Virginia.

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