HUMAN GENOME PROJECT: Officials May Have Bent Laws
Officials at the National Human Genome Research Institute are denying that they secretly conspired to enlist a biotechnology firm to help them "win a bitter two-year battle" against Celera Genomics in the race to develop the first, complete map of the human genome, USA Today reports. Critics say that the Human Genome Project tried to circumvent laws that require federal agencies to allow private companies to publicly bid on contracts when they tried to recruit Palo Alto, Calif.-based Incyte Pharmaceuticals to help them gain access to gene sequencing and genome assembly technology similar to those employed by Rockville, Md.-based Celera. A collaboration between the Human Genome Project and Celera ended last week when the two sides could not reach an agreement.
Role of Incyte
USA Today reports that Human Genome officials three weeks ago asked the pharmaceutical company group SNP Consortium to collaborate on the Incyte strategy. Under the plan, Incyte would "assemble a large volume of genetic data" for the Project over the next three months. Officials asked SNP to serve as the middle man since the Project could not hire Incyte without a competitive bidding period, according to Alan Rose of Glaxo Wellcome, a member of the consortium. However, SNP officials refused the deal indicating that it was "inappropriate for the consortium to side with the government against a private company." Incyte CEO Randy Scott confirmed the plan, saying, "We had entered into a dialogue with them ... We've indicated over the last year that if there was any way we could help accelerate completion of the Human Genome Project we would." Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Institute, downplayed the role of Incyte and said that SNP was approached to "help [the project] gather data beneficial to drug discovery." After some debate, Collins and SNP decided to put the contract out for bid. Several companies, including Incyte, were invited to bid and a selection could be made as early as this week (Friend, 3/13).