WASHINGTON - A number of observers were taken aback by last week's Federal Trade Commission decision to make approval of the merger of Ciba-Geigy and Sandoz into Novartis contingent on the companies' agreement to make certain gene therapy technologies widely available. Their worry was that the decision would pave the way for the FTC to require merging companies to divest early-stage technologies, as opposed to marketed products. However, the FTC told BioCentury that it is breaking no new ground.

The FTC decision was based on the agency's belief that the combined gene therapy patent portfolios owned by Sandoz, which owns Genetic Therapy Inc. and is majority owner of SyStemix Inc., and Chiron Corp., which is 49.9 percent owned by Ciba, would be strong enough to deter or prevent other companies from developing gene therapies, according to Howard Morse, assistant director of the FTC's Bureau of Competition.