OncorMed obtains rights to cancer-detection aid Gaithersburg company can get royalties from tests with genetic marker


OncorMed Inc., a Gaithersburg company that provides genetic testing services for cancer, said yesterday that it has obtained exclusive, worldwide rights to a recently discovered genetic marker for inherited breast cancer, the so-called BRCA2 gene.

The publicly held company licensed the discovery from Duke University and the London-based Cancer Research Campaign Technology (CRCT), a publicly funded research outfit.

The parties declined to disclose how much OncorMed paid for the rights to the gene. OncorMed will receive an undisclosed share of revenues from any licensing of the gene.

CRCT and Duke said they are pursuing licenses for therapeutic applications of the gene.

The BRCA2 gene was discovered in 1995 by a consortium of Duke and CRCT scientists, though no patent rights have yet been issued.

OncorMed, which already markets a test for the BRCA2 gene, said it sought the agreement because the company believes that when a patent is issued, it will go to the Duke-CRCT team.

"We wanted to establish a clear relationship with the group that we are confident will eventually get the patent," said Dr. Leslie Alexandre, vice president for corporate affairs at OncorMed.

By establishing an exclusive licensing arrangement with the BRCA2 team, OncorMed gains access to revenues from the test through a wider channel than its own testing service. The company would be able to demand royalties from competitors offering BRCA2 testing services. One such company is Myriad Genetics, a big competitor of OncorMed's.

Alexandre said OncorMed intends to seek such "sub-license" arrangements if and when a patent on the gene is issued to the the Duke-CRCT team.

Andrew E. Balber, associate director of Duke's Office of Science and Technology, said that about six major genetic testing companies were contacted about licensing the discovery and that two, including OncorMed, made serious overtures.

Balber said OncorMed won the bidding war, in part because OncorMed's views on how genetic testing should be handled were similar to the Duke-CRCT group's.

"The policy issues were perhaps more important than the financial issues in the agreement," said Balber.

Both parties agreed that such testing, especially for cancer, should be administered only to high-risk individuals, such as those with a family history of the disease. Also, said Alexandre, the company requires physicians and others offering the test to give patients counseling before and after the test.

The BRCA2 gene is one of two rare genes that researchers believe substantially increase the risk of breast cancer. The other gene is known as BRCA1. These genes, say experts, may raise the risk of breast cancer 20 times or more, especially in young women.

OncorMed has developed a test for the BRCA1 genetic mutation.

L OncorMed stock rose 12.5 cents yesterday to close at $5.875.

Pub Date: 7/09/97

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