Genomics deal prompts a debate

The deal announced last week between Genetic Therapy Inc. and Human Genome Sciences Inc., combining their gene delivery and gene discovery programs, elicited a strong response from competing genetic therapy and genomics companies.

GTII and HGSI defended the deal as solving their mutual needs - to ensure access by the gene therapy company to genes to plug into its vector systems, and to provide an outlet for gene discoveries by the genomics company. The two companies are linked by a common venture capital backer, HealthCare Investment Corp.

Premature

But others in the genomics field see this kind of exclusive arrangement as prematurely tying the genomics company to a limited array of gene delivery systems, at a time when the jury is still out on the best vector systems. And some other gene therapy companies believe immediate access to the stream of genes coming out of the genomics companies is both unnecessary and distracting to immediate business goals.

Under the terms of the deal, the companies will collaborate to identify and develop human gene therapy products. They have agreed not to collaborate with other companies whose businesses are primarily gene therapy or gene discovery.

"From our view and from Human Genome Sciences' view, what the gene therapy companies have lacked is a discovery capability," said James Barrett, chairman and CEO of GTII. "The usual mantra is our industry doesn't discover genes, but has to rely on genes in the public domain or the ability to license them on terms that may not be attractive. This gives us access to a tremendous discovery effort."