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Clinton’s Reassurance Lifts Biotech Stocks

From Times Wire Services

Beaten-down biotechnology shares surged Wednesday after President Clinton reassured the industry that its commercial gene discoveries could be patented.

Among the biggest gainers were shares of companies specifically involved in research into the human genome--the recipe book of genes that form a person.

PE Corp.-Celera soared $41.38 to $115, Human Genome Sciences surged $16 to $97, Millennium Pharmaceuticals leaped $21.36 to $143.36 and Sequenom rocketed $9.38 to $33.50.

Among larger biotech firms, Amgen surged $3.19 to $59.38, Biogen gained $6.19 to $69.06, Genentech rose $10.25 to $149 and Immunex added 44 cents to $62.56.

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Last month, confusion over a joint statement from Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair led to a plunge in biotech stocks amid concern that gene-related discoveries would have to be made freely available to a wider community of researchers.

That wider distribution of research, investors feared, would hurt profits of individual companies that had discovered, and were trying to patent, commercial uses of genes.

But Wednesday, Clinton was asked at a White House conference to clarify his administration’s position on patent protection for discoveries about the human genetic makeup.

“General information ought to be in the public domain as much as possible about the human genome,” Clinton said. “Where public money contributed to basic research we ought to get it out there.”

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But “if someone did it with private money, they ought to get a patent on it,” he said.

“I think he was made aware that his early remarks had been taken negatively and were hurting [the industry],” said Matt Geller, a biotech analyst with CIBC World Markets Corp. “I think he wanted to make it clear that the government wants to foster this research.”

The Nasdaq biotech index, which includes more than 200 U.S. and European companies, finished the day up 6.3% at 1,072.40, leaving it up 21% year-to-date.

Wednesday’s gain helped the sector regain some ground lost since the mid-March announcement.

But many biotech shares remain far below their recent peaks. Human Genome, for example, reached a high $232.75 amid the frenzy for the stocks last quarter. It now is 58% below that peak. Sequenom had traded as high as $191.25, and now is 82% below that peak.


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