Oxford BioMedica chief seeks to calm fears over patents

Oxford Biomedica, the gene therapy group, yesterday broke the UK biotechnology sector's silence on Bill Clinton and Tony Blair's intervention in the gene patenting debate, which has sent shares in the sector tumbling in the last two days.

The company issued a statement seeking to reassure shareholders that comments on Tuesday by Mssrs Clinton and Blair that gene discoveries should not be patented were no threat to its future.

The statement said: "In general, discoveries cannot, and we believe should not, be patented. However, if one takes a discovery and uses it to make a product, the product is a patentable invention. This was clearly endorsed by President Clinton and Tony Blair."

In spite of the statement, Oxford BioMedica's shares closed down 7p at 84.5p.

The company is a pioneer in the field of gene therapy. It uses discoveries in genomics - the mapping of the human genome - to develop proteins which are injected into the body to stimulate genes to perform particular functions. These include genes that kill tumours and stop the replication of HIV, the virus that causes Aids.

Professor Alan Kingsman, Oxford BioMedica's chief executive, said: "I'm not sure Clinton and Blair said anything too bad. It's the way it's been interpreted that's the problem. They recognise the importance of intellectual property rights as a spur to developing new medicines. No new medicine would be developed without a patent to protect it."

He said he issued the statement in response to anxious calls from confused shareholders. "We're a gene-based company - if we weren't going to put the record straight, who would?"

Professor Kingsman said the company already had patents on all the genes it needed for product development for the foreseeable future.

He added: "Ninety per cent of the value of the UK biotechnology sector doesn't lie in things that come out of the Human Genome Project."

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