Chiron To Announce Shift in Licensing Policy for Hepatitis C Genome Patents
Emeryville, Calif.-based biotechnology company Chiron on Tuesday plans to announce a change in its licensing policy for its hepatitis C genome patents, the Los Angeles Times reports (Gellene, Los Angeles Times, 6/22). The company holds a total of 100 hepatitis C-related patents in 20 countries. The patents have allowed Chiron to charge other companies prohibitive amounts to access its technology. In addition, the company has successfully sued companies for infringements on its patents. CDC in March announced it is reviewing a 14-year-old government agreement with Chiron that allows the company a great deal of control over hepatitis C research. Some competitors say they have abandoned plans to enter the field because of Chiron's grasp on the patents. The patents under review include one that credits Chiron scientists with the discovery of the hepatitis C virus, even though a CDC scientist largely contributed to the original research. CDC withdrew its claims to the virus in 1990 after Chiron paid the agency $1.9 million and the scientist $337,500 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/2).
Chiron has licensed the hepatitis C-related patents -- which expire in 2015 -- to 16 companies, and the licenses generated $1.8 billion in revenue for the company in 2003, the Times reports. Chiron CEO Howard Pien said that the company no longer will require licensors to pay "upfront fees" and make annual payments to receive rights to the hepatitis C patents, which could aid hepatitis C drug development, according to the Times. Pien said that the company has received complaints from small companies that the cost of the licenses is too high. He added that Chiron did not want to be seen as prohibiting drug development, the Times reports. Chiron's first contract under its new policy is with San Francisco-based biotech company Prosetta. Pien would not discuss the details of the contract, but he said that Prosetta could save millions of dollars during the first stages of the contract, according to the Times (Los Angeles Times, 6/22).