Human Genome Aims to Crack Code for Profits

By Kopecki, Dawn | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 9, 1997 | Go to article overview
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Human Genome Aims to Crack Code for Profits


Kopecki, Dawn, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


As little as three years ago, scientists dismissed William Haseltine and his ideas of breaking the complete human genetic code.

Today about 10 pharmaceutical companies pay fees in the multiple millions to access the genomic information Mr. Haseltine's Human Genome Sciences has chronicled to date. Company officials say they have logged about 95 percent of the human genetic code, or genome.

And despite its lack of current earnings, every analyst who follows the Rockville company has it rated a buy. They believe that the company, which has spent about $110 million on research and development since its inception in 1993, has the potential to make billions.

"Being a biotech analyst, if I used earnings as a prerequisite for a buy, I would only have seven companies out of 300 that I could recommend," said Marc Ostro, an analyst with the Union Bank of Switzerland in New York. "Biotech ratings are based on the future expectations of the company. And my future expectations for Human Genome are extremely high."

Human Genome announced last week that it selected a Rockville site to build a $40 million, 80,000-square-foot lab to develop and test drugs found from its genetic research. Maryland and Montgomery County are working with the company to offset the costs.

Last year the company reached a deal with SmithKline Beecham PLC, one of Human Genome's primary financial backers, to develop its own drugs. Human Genome will branch out from genetic research and find out if it can produce marketable products.

The pilot plant will manufacture and test Human Genome's drug candidates in humans, beginning this fall with a therapeutic protein called myeloid progenitor inhibitory factor, which the company hopes can be developed into a drug that would help cancer patients.

"You don't know whether this will work in humans until you try it in humans," said Mr. Haseltine, the chairman of the board and chief executive officer. "There's a higher chance this will work because it is a human substance. We've had very positive results in our pre-clinical studies with about two dozen drugs.

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