NEW YORK, Feb 15 - Despite recent claims that there may be as few as 30,000 genes in the human genome, Incyte defended its advertising campaign, which until recently promised a product that offered instant access to 120,000 genes.
“The problem here is that we and the Human Genome Project and Celera are not being specific about what we’re talking about,” Whitfield said. “We’re talking about gene transcripts. They’re talking about gene loci. We call gene transcripts genes because they are commercially important, [in that] they code for proteins.”
In other words, Incyte’s database contains transcripts for 120,000 exons, or protein coding sections of the genes. Since scientists now believe that one gene encodes multiple proteins, finding an exon will get you closer to the protein than finding a gene, Incyte argued.
“Let’s assume you have three exons” on a gene, said Whitfield. “If you just have the Human Genome Project’s and Celera’s data you don’t know what the transcripts are. In Incyte’s database you have all the transcripts,” he said, as well as information about which transcripts are expressed in different organs.
However, Incyte did drop the 120,000 figure in its newest ad campaign, which also specifies access to gene transcripts, rather than genes.
This transcript database, Whitfield added, forms the hub of Incyte’s seemingly far-flung array of partnerships and collaborations, such as the deal it announced Wednesday with privately owned Genicon to develop antibody arrays, and its collaboration with GenomicFX of Austin, Texas, to develop diagnostic tools for beef and swine breeding.
While the gene transcript database may not be affected by the Celera and Human Genome Project estimations, another of Incyte’s assets, however, may have diminished in value with the Science and Nature genome papers' insistence that genes do not work as simply as previously thought in coding proteins. Incyte’s patent portfolio of over 500 full-length genes may like other gene patents prove ultimately less important in light of this finding, said Paul White, a patent lawyer at Pillsbury Winthrop in Washington.
“With fewer genes there will be less emphasis on patenting genes,” said White. “With a gene responsible for more than one protein, I believe the shift will be toward patenting proteins.”