Originally created 12/14/01

Biotech files trade-secret lawsuit



ATHENS, Ga. - An Athens biotech company's trade-secrets lawsuit is merely an attempt to stifle the competition in the high-stakes race to develop a chicken genetically altered to manufacture drugs, a lawyer for a rival company told a Clarke County Superior Court judge Tuesday.

"It's a case about anti-competition," said James Gale, an attorney for Viragen, a Florida-based biotechnology company that is being sued by Athens-based AviGenics. "They want you to prevent us, and who knows who else, from doing what the plaintiff itself is not capable of doing."

AviGenics filed suit earlier this year accusing world-famous Roslin Institute and one of its top scientists of misappropriating ideas developed by the Athens company, then using those ideas as part of a research and business partnership with the Florida company.

The goal of the research is to develop techniques to genetically alter chickens using human genes so that they would lay eggs that contain proteins useful as pharmaceuticals, such as cancer-fighting human interferon.

As part of the lawsuit, AviGenics' attorneys asked Clarke County Superior Court Judge Lawton Stephens to halt the defendants' work on the project - the subject of the hearing that began Wednesday.

Judge Stephens is not expected to make an immediate ruling on the AviGenics request for a temporary injunction.

Roslin, a nonprofit research institute in Scotland, became famous several years ago when scientists there created Dolly, the world's first cloned sheep.

Mr. Gale's remarks came Wednesday as a hearing connected with the lawsuit opened in Clarke County Superior Court.

AviGenics was founded by University of Georgia geneticist Bob Ivarie in 1996, aiming to explore several lines of research involving genetically engineered chickens.

One of those research projects was genetically altering chickens to produce proteins that could be used as drugs - the same goal as the Viragen-Roslin research.

Roslin scientist Helen Sang served on AviGenics' scientific advisory board for the company's first three years, and now is director of the Roslin research project Viragen is part of.

Dr. Sang, an acknowledged leader in avian transgenic research for two decades, says she learned nothing of commercial value from her association with AviGenics.