Friendly divorce.

Commercial Gene Kingdom Splits Up

WASHINGTON--William Haseltine and J. Craig Venter, who graced the cover of Business Week as the "Gene Kings" in 1995, announced yesterday that they are going their separate ways. The breakup of a partnership that pioneered commercial DNA research is expected to unleash a flood of genetic data: Indeed, Venter's nonprofit DNA sequencing center, The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR), today publicly released 40 million base pairs of DNA sequence data from 11 organisms, including portions of the genomes of the microbes responsible for tuberculosis, cholera, and syphilis, and chromosome 2 of the malaria parasite.

Craig Venter (right) and William Haseltine.

Haseltine's medical product development firm, Human Genome Sciences Inc. (HGS) in Rockville, Maryland, and TIGR, also in Rockville, effectively ended business relations on 20 June. TIGR will relinquish more than $38 million which it was due to receive from HGS over the next 5 years. HGS will release TIGR from patent requirements and publishing delays on future research. However, HGS retains rights to TIGR's earlier work.

The divorce was long in the making. HGS and TIGR came together in 1992 when the pharmaceutical company SmithKline Beecham invested $125 million in the two outfits to finance a hunt for human genes, the first big industrial leap into genomics. From the start, however, Venter chafed under commercial limits on data publication. HGS's attempts to delay the release of microbial sequencing data raised tensions to the boiling point. Last winter, HGS and TIGR began talking about a split-up (Science, 7 February, p. 778); formal negotiations began 2 months ago.

"This was an amicable decision," says Haseltine, one in "our mutual best interests." He says HGS was getting "diminishing returns" from its investment in TIGR since Venter had steered his outfit into sequencing organisms of little medical importance, and into human genome sequencing, also of limited value for a company like HGS that is interested in genes as drug targets (not untranslated DNA that makes up most of the genome). Venter, on the other hand, says that even at a cost of $38 million, TIGR's new freedom is "worth every penny."

Posted in Biology