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Public to get first taste of genetic...


Public to get first taste of genetic engineering

This may be the year that measures the public's tolerance for genetically engineered foods.

The first of those foods -- a tomato developed by Calgene -- is expected to hit supermarkets this year.

And a survey by Professors Thomas J. Hoban at North Carolina State University and Patricia A. Kendall at Colorado State University shows the public's acceptance is likely to be based on minimal information.

More than half of the people surveyed had read or heard little about biotechnology.

They said they would more easily accept genetically engineered products that were plants. So a genetically engineered tomato would gain acceptance much more quickly than a hog with mouse genes in it. The survey also showed that the closer human genes get to a product, the more wary the public becomes.

"People feel plants are pretty far removed from humans," Dr. Hoban said, so genetically engineered plants are not frightening.

On the other hand, the use of genetic engineering for medical applications is broadly accepted, even though the public appears unaware of most medical uses.

Dr. Hoban believes that acceptance of biotech products will depend in part on the industry's early track record. If there is a bad incident with a technology such as genetic engineering, that will be what the public remembers, he says.

The public wants more information, the survey showed, and wants genetically engineered food products clearly labeled. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not yet decided whether genetically altered products must be labeled.

MedImmune names Kishbauch president

Michael D. Kishbauch has been named president and chief operating officer of MedImmune Inc., the Gaithersburg company said yesterday. Before going to the biotech company in December as executive vice president, he spent a decade in senior positions at CIBA-GEIGY and helped launch Habitrol, a smoking cessation patch.

Stock of Amgen continues to slide

The stock of Amgen Inc., one of the largest biotech companies in the nation, continued to slide yesterday. The slippage began last week on analysts' concerns that sales could erode for its biggest-selling drug, Neupogen, which is used in cancer patients.

Hambrecht & Quist lowered its rating from "neutral" to sell yesterday. Last week, Merrill Lynch analysts Stuart Weisbrod and Eli Kammerman lowered their rating from above average to neutral.

The analysts are concerned that an Immunex Corp. drug,

which is expected to be approved by the FDA later this year, could take some of the market share from Amgen.

Amgen stock closed yesterday at $36.25, down $2.25.

Human Genome deal details still unclear

Last week's deal between Rockville's little Human Genome Sciences Inc. and SmithKline Beecham Pharmaceuticals raises questions about how deep SmithKline will reach into the cookie jar of genetic research.

Human Genome Sciences, some would argue, will have access to a wealth of research coming out of the Institute of Genomic Research, which was set up last year by Craig Venter, a leading scientist in the field who left the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Venter will get $70 million over the next decade from a New Jersey venture capital group, Healthcare Investments Corp., to continue identifying gene sequences, the snippets of genetic information along the chromosomes.

That research will be available to Human Genome Sciences, and some of it to SmithKline. The two companies have kept secret the details of the deal, including what SmithKline will actually have access to. And analysts and local biotech observers say it is difficult to predict what impact the venture will have on the small biotech company.

But this is clear: Human Genome Sciences has decided it needs cash to subsidize product development, manufacturing and marketing. Some speculate that the company is unlikely to grow into a major manufacturer or employer for Maryland because it will have sold off the manufacturing and marketing rights.

Baltimore-D.C. area high in research papers

Can a region's scientific activity be measured by the number of research papers published there?

The Institute for Scientific Information indexed 600,000 research papers between 1981 and 1991, and Science Watch surveyed the index to find that 25 cities produced most of the papers. Baltimore ranked 13th, Washington 11th and Bethesda -- home to the National Institutes of Health -- eighth. The combined Baltimore/Washington corridor produced about 16,000 papers -- more than the survey leader, Moscow.

New biopesticide attacks cockroaches

Bugs, beware.

EcoScience Corp., a Worcester, Mass., biotech company, has received federal approval to begin marketing a biopesticide against cockroaches. The worldwide market for cockroach products is $570 million, about half of which is in the United States. The publicly held company said its product uses a microbial agent to control the pests.

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