Gene readers go to court

2019-03-08 05:20:11

By Andy Coghlan ONE of the two companies planning to sequence the entire human genome in rapid time is facing a legal challenge that could derail its efforts. Celera Genomics, based in Rockville, Maryland, was launched to leapfrog efforts to sequence the genome by the publicly funded Human Genome Project (This Week, 16 May, p 4). But Amersham Pharmacia Biotech of Little Chalfont, Buckinghamshire, now claims that a key element of Celera’s sequencing technology infringes a patent. The challenge centres on the “energy dyes” that enable each base in the genome to be “read” by a sequencing machine. Guanine, thymine, adenine and cytosine, the bases that make up the alphabet of DNA, each trigger different light signals from the dyes. Amersham has signed an exclusive licence to use and sell dyes developed by the University of California, which won a patent in November 1997. The company launched its dyes under the DYEnamic tradename in 1996. Amersham’s action against Celera extends an earlier suit filed in March against Perkin-Elmer of Norwalk, Connecticut, which launched its rival BigDYE range of energy dyes this year. Amersham claims these dyes infringe the University of California’s patent. Perkin-Elmer founded Celera with Craig Venter of The Institute for Genomic Research, or TIGR, in Rockville. Celera’s sequencing effort depends upon the BigDYE range. Its commercial rival, Incyte of Palo Alto, California, is using both Perkin-Elmer and Amersham dyes. Although some of its sequencing machines work with only one brand of dye, this means that Incyte is less reliant on the Perkin-Elmer range. The case is expected to be heard next summer in Delaware. “If we win, they must stop using the dyes or pay us royalties,” says a spokesman for Amersham. But Celera and its parent insist that their genome-sequencing programme remains on track. “We’re very confident of our position, and we intend to defend it vigorously,