Flow of novel genes for R&D continues

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Sir

Your article contains statements that are misleading and incorrectly attributed. For example, SmithKline Beecham (SB) does not claim that the company has “exhaustively milked the database”; the situation is that, having initiated work on more than 3,000 novel human genes provided by Human Genome Sciences (HGS), its capacity to pursue additional, high quality leads for drug development is temporarily saturated. The flow of novel genes for research and development continues unabated to HGS's other partners, namely Schering Plough, Takeda, Merck KGaA and Synthelabo.

The article wrongly attributes to SB the sentiment that “the stringent terms imposed by HGS at the time” on researchers wishing to gain access to the database have become “increasingly unacceptable”. The terms of the material transfer agreements (MTAs) that govern access to the data and materials were mutually agreed by all parties to the agreement — including SB — and have been accepted by more than 150 academic institutions. HGS has already established MTAs regarding more than 1,200 individual human genes and purified proteins with academic centres worldwide.

I would also disagree that HGS triggered a “vigorous debate over whether human genome should be mapped in the private or public domain”. HGS is not — nor has it been — a genome mapping company as are Genset, Millennium, Sequanna, Myriad, deCode, Darwin and others. HGS isolates and sequences expressed messenger RNAs; we do not map them.

Your article also quotes self-congratulation from public database providers on the completeness and adequacy of the publicly available data. But, if the public databases are adequate, why do pharmaceutical companies continue to pay large sums for access to private databases? The pharmaceutical giant Novartis, for example, signed an agreement for access to a private database in January this year.

Finally, you state that HGS is a less prominent player in the sequencing business “following the split from⃛ The Institute of Genome Research (TIGR)”. In fact, less than 5% of the HGS human gene sequencing data was generated through our collaboration with TIGR, and we continue to be a world leader in the isolation and characterization by partial and full-length sequence analysis of human cDNAs.

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