Merck's decision to fund large-scale automated sequencing of cDNA fragments and place the results in the public domain has underwhelmed biotechnology companies that have an established presence in genomic research.

Several of the companies mentioned in the general financial press as potential victims of the Merck move dismiss it as, essentially, a day late and a dollar short. The companies said it is unlikely to deal a knock-out blow to their intellectual property positions, which are uncertain in any case because the validity of patents on little-characterized cDNA fragments will not be resolved for years.

They also suggested that Merck is acting from a fundamental lack of understanding and appreciation for the value of genomic research and of the advanced stage of competing international public and private efforts to publish sophisticated genomic databases.

Merck's 'policy'

Merck announced last week that it will support "several million dollars" of genomic research at Washington University School of Medicine and will place the resulting information in GenBank, a public database. Although details of the project were under negotiation as of Friday, Merck said it expects to publish libraries of 200,000 unique clones within a year and a half. This would represent 30-50 percent of the human genome.