SmithKline Funding Gene Research


Monday, September 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The University of Pennsylvania gene therapy lab that came under fire and lost a major backer after the death of a teen-age patient has landed a new sponsor: pharmaceutical giant SmithKline Beecham PLC.

The company will fund basic research at Penn's Institute for Human Gene Therapy, including animal tests, but not human trials.

SmithKline spokesman Rick Koenig said a better understanding of genes could help in developing conventional drugs. The money will also support research that could lead to new ways of delivering genes to human cells, Penn said Thursday.

SmithKline did not say how much it will pay, but said it was less than the $4 million a year once given by Genovo Inc.

Genovo had funded about 20 percent of the institute's budget until it was sold in August, ending a perceived conflict of interest between Penn's research mission and its close ties to a for-profit company.

Dr. James Wilson, head of the gene therapy lab, founded Genovo and owned 30 percent of it, thus standing to benefit financially from any gene therapy successes.

The relationship came into question after Jesse Gelsinger of Tucson, Ariz., died Sept. 17, 1999, four days after starting experimental treatment. It was the first death known to have been caused by gene therapy, and the 18-year-old's family sued Penn and his doctors this week, saying they didn't reveal all the risks and side effects.

In March, the Food and Drug Administration accused Wilson of violating safety regulations and ordered him and the lab to halt human drug trials.

Penn officials said Wilson has no financial ties to SmithKline, though Wilson served on the company's genetics advisory board in the mid-1990s. He also has long-standing personal connections with two of the company's top researchers.

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On the Net:

SmithKline Beecham: http://www.sb.com

Institute for Human Gene Therapy: http://www.med.upenn.edu/(tilde)ihgt