April 2, 2023

After DNA Patent Ruling, Availability of Genetic Tests Could Broaden

The ruling in effect ends a nearly two-decade monopoly by Myriad Genetics, the company at the center of the case.

“It levels the playing field; we can all go out and compete,” said Sherri Bale, managing director of GeneDx, a testing company, which plans to offer a test for breast cancer risk. “This is going to make a lot more genetic tests available, especially for rare diseases.”

Just how many other tests are affected is a bit unclear. Experts say there are not that many tests offered exclusively by one company because of patents.

But some other patents, like those on bacterial genes that might be useful in producing enzymes or biofuel, might also now be in jeopardy.

Still, biotechnology industry officials and patent lawyers said on Thursday that the decision should have little effect on the pharmaceutical industry and on developers of genetically engineered crops. That is partly because while the court held that isolated DNA could not be patented because it is a natural product, it did allow patenting of a more synthetic form of DNA that is more commercially valuable.

“The Supreme Court got it exactly right,” said Eric Lander, the president of the Broad Institute, a genetic research center affiliated with Harvard and M.I.T. “It’s a great decision for patients, it’s a great decision for science, and I think it’s a great decision for the biotechnology industry.”

It is not necessarily a great decision for Myriad Genetics, which held the patents on the two genes, called BRCA1 and BRCA2, at issue in the case.

Women with certain mutations in either of these genes have an extraordinarily high risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer. The actress Angelina Jolie, who has one of those mutations, recently had both breasts removed to sharply reduce the risk of getting cancer.

Myriad, which charges about $4,000 for a complete analysis of the two genes, had used its patents to keep others from offering such tests.

The company, based in Salt Lake City, said it did not anticipate any impact on its business from the decision, which it said affected only a small number of its patent claims.

“We have 24 patents, more than 500 patent claims, the vast majority of which are still valid and enforceable,” Richard Marsh, Myriad’s general counsel, said in an interview.

But the groups that sued Myriad and some testing laboratories said the patents that were invalidated were the main barriers to competition.

Besides GeneDx, which is a subsidiary of Bio-Reference Laboratories, others that said that they would offer testing of the BRCA genes include Ambry Genetics; the University of Washington; Montefiore Medical Center and Quest Diagnostics, the nation’s largest clinical laboratory company.

Mr. Marsh declined to say whether Myriad would try to enforce its remaining patents against any of these companies.

Robert Cook-Deegan, a research professor at Duke University’s Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy who has closely studied gene patenting, said he doubted that would happen.

“I think there might be some blustering or saber rattling, but I would be really surprised if they sue anybody for patent infringement for a diagnostic test,” he said.

Myriad’s stock initially shot up 10 percent after the court’s opinion was issued, but it then retreated as investors realized that competition would indeed be coming for BRCA testing, which accounted for about $132 million of Myriad’s $156 million in revenue in the most recent quarter. Myriad shares ended the day at $32.01, down 5.63 percent.

The company, however, had also faced other challenges from the rapid improvement and declining costs of gene sequencing.

“Many academic labs, including our own, will soon be offering panel tests for dozens, or even hundreds of genes, for the same price Myriad historically charged for just two genes,” said Dr. Kenneth Offit, chief of the clinical genetics service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

Myriad itself has announced plans to phase out its BRCA gene tests by the middle of 2015 and replace them with a test that will analyze 25 genes that contribute to the risk of breast cancer and several other types of cancer. The price is expected to be similar to what the BRCA analysis costs now.

Also becoming more practical is whole genome sequencing. Some experts had feared that having numerous patents on individual genes would impede the ability to sequence and analyze a person’s entire genome, though others doubted that. In any case, that threat is now removed.

Some experts say that other genetic tests that are exclusively controlled by a patent holder include the test for spinal muscular atrophy and the test for an inherited form of deafness.

Dr. Bale of GeneDx said the deafness gene also caused a skin disease. Her company is allowed to test for mutations that cause the skin disease, but if it discovers a mutation for hearing loss, it cannot tell the doctor. Instead, a new blood sample has to be drawn and sent to Athena Diagnostics, which controls the testing for the deafness gene. Dr. Bale said the court’s decision should eliminate the need for that arrangement.

It is often said that patents cover 4,000 human genes, or about 20 percent of all human genes, meaning the decision could have a large impact.

But many of these patents were obtained in the genomics gold rush of the late 1990s and are either close to expiring or have been allowed to lapse for not being useful.

Moreover, said Christopher M. Holman, a biotechnology patent expert at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, many of the gene patents are actually patents on complementary DNA, or cDNA, which is essentially a gene with extraneous parts removed. The Supreme Court said cDNA was eligible for patenting because it was not naturally occurring.

Complementary DNA is commercially valuable because it is generally used to genetically engineer a cell, a plant or an animal.

Still, the Supreme Court ruling could have some broader effects — on bacterial genes, for example. An analysis in Nature Biotechnology in May concluded that more than 8,000 genes might be at risk in the Myriad decision, less than half of which were human genes.

It is also possible that the decision could make it hard to patent things other than genes that are isolated from natural products, like drugs derived from microorganisms or plants.

Patents on human genes are “almost yesterday’s I.P.” said Hans Sauer, deputy general counsel for the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a trade group, using the abbreviation for intellectual property. But inability to patent bacterial genes could slow innovation, he said.

“Paradoxically enough,” he said, “the case bites harder in areas that have the least to do with human genes.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/14/business/after-dna-patent-ruling-availability-of-genetic-tests-could-broaden.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

ENI Makes a Push Toward the Top of Oil and Gas

The mood around ENI has been nirvana-like lately as the company’s explorers have made some lucrative enlightened guesses. Beginning in 2010, ENI and a rival, the Houston-based Anadarko Petroleum, made a series of finds off Mozambique, a country in East Africa, that add up to the largest natural gas trove of recent years — the equivalent of about 16 billion barrels of oil.

ENI controls the largest share of the Mozambique findings, with 70 percent of an offshore block in the Indian Ocean called Area 4, in what is known as the Rovuma Basin.

ENI’s chief executive, Paolo Scaroni, said that the discoveries had come after ENI spent five years studying East Africa, where very little oil and natural gas had been found. When Mozambique made exploration blocks available in 2006, ENI bid and got the one it wanted.

These days, oil and natural gas exploration is an industry as fraught with geopolitical risks as it is with geological ones, of course, as the recent hostage-taking attack in Algeria has made clear. And ENI is as aware as any European energy company of the dangers of politically volatile North Africa, given its own extensive operations in Algeria and Libya.

But for now, at least, Mozambique is not one of Africa’s trouble spots. And in any case, energy companies tend to follow opportunities wherever they can find them.

“Although Mozambique was a new country, we thought the chances were reasonable, about 20 percent,” of finding something, Mr. Scaroni said during an interview in Milan. “Of course it was high-risk, high-reward.”

It was after Anadarko, a U.S. independent, announced a discovery in an adjacent tract that ENI, which had been preparing to drill in another part of its block, decided to put its first well near Anadarko’s tract.

Mr. Scaroni, a graduate of Columbia Business School in New York with a master’s degree in business administration, took the top job at ENI in 2005 after spending much of his career outside Italy and the oil business. He has been gradually reshaping the company into more of a machine for finding and producing oil and natural gas and less of the lumbering state conglomerate that had toiled in the second tier of global oil giants.

Mr. Scaroni, 66, also has the crucial task of maintaining ENI’s relationships with a group of fossil-fuel-rich but prickly host countries that include Iraq, Libya, Russia, Venezuela and, elsewhere in Africa, Angola and the Republic of Congo. He regularly turns up in places like Baghdad or Brazzaville that might give other chief executives pause.

During the interview, the Zubair field in Iraq was on his mind. “We have a company with 150 expatriates in Iraq, with a huge effort for security, and the economic result for us is very little, since we are paid $2 per barrel,” he said. “From time to time, we ask ourselves: Is it worth it?”

ENI is the largest foreign producer of oil and gas in both Algeria and Libya. ENI executives say they were surprised and shocked by what happened to BP and Statoil, which are partners in the Algerian plant that was seized, and are tightening up their own security measures. They note that ENI already has large numbers of Algerian troops inside the perimeters of its Algerian sites, while troops apparently were not posted inside the seized complex at In Amenas.

So far, Mr. Scaroni has smoothly sailed ENI through Libya’s chaotic transition from the regime of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi to a new government that is still trying to find its balance. Unlike most other oil companies, ENI thrived under the Qaddafi regime, developing new fields and building a $9 billion facility at Mellitah, west of Tripoli, to pipe natural gas under the Mediterranean.

Mr. Scaroni was quick to go to Benghazi in April 2011 to meet the rebel leadership, even before Colonel Qaddafi’s fall. Since then, ENI has restored most of its Libyan production, which represents 14 percent of ENI’s oil and natural gas output.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/26/business/energy-environment/eni-makes-a-push-toward-the-top.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

G.O.P. Turns Fire on Obama Pillar, Auto Bailout

And so began the latest, and perhaps most important, attempt by Mitt Romney to wrest Ohio into his column. His effort to do so is now intently focused, at times including statements that stretch or ignore the facts, on knocking down what is perhaps the most important component of President Obama’s appeal to blue-collar voters in Ohio and across the industrial Midwest: the success of the president’s 2009 auto bailout.  

Mr. Obama’s relatively strong standing in most polls in Ohio so far has been attributed by members of both parties to the recovery of the auto industry, which has helped the economy here outperform the national economy. At the same time, the industry’s performance and the president’s claim to credit for it appear to have helped Mr. Obama among the white working-class voters Mr. Romney needs.

With the race under most expected circumstances coming down to Ohio, and Ohio potentially coming down to perceptions of how the candidates view the auto industry, Mr. Romney has spent the last few days aggressively trying to undercut Mr. Obama’s auto bailout narrative.

In the past few days his running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan, has accused Mr. Obama of allowing the bailout to bypass nonunion workers at Delphi, a big auto parts maker with operations in Ohio; Mr. Romney has characterized Mr. Obama’s bailout plan as based on his approach; and Mr. Romney incorrectly told a rally in Defiance, Ohio, late last week outright that Jeep was considering moving its production to China. (Jeep is discussing increasing production in China for sales within China; it is not moving jobs out of Ohio or the United States, or building cars in China for export to the United States.)

It is a high-risk strategy: Jeep’s corporate parent, Chrysler, had already released a scathing statement calling suggestions that Jeep was moving American jobs to China “fantasies” and “extravagant”; news media outlets here and nationally have called the Romney campaign’s statements — initially based on a poorly worded quotation from Chrysler in a news article that was misinterpreted by blogs — misleading.

Mr. Obama’s campaign, seeking to maintain what it sees as its advantage in Ohio, responded on Monday by releasing a commercial calling Mr. Romney’s ad false and reiterating that Mr. Romney had opposed the bailout on the terms supported by Mr. Obama. And on Sunday it dispatched the investment banker who helped develop the bailout, Steven Rattner, here to discuss Jeep’s plans and the auto rescue with local news organizations.

Democrats are hoping that Mr. Romney’s latest move will draw a backlash in a city so dependent on Jeep, which has announced plans to add 1,100 jobs to an assembly plant here that is currently being refitted for the next iteration of what is now called the Jeep Liberty.

Bruce Baumhower, the president of the United Auto Workers local that oversees the major Jeep plant here, said Mr. Romney’s initial comments on moving production to China drew a rash of calls from members concerned about their jobs. When he informed them Chrysler was, in fact, is expanding its Jeep operation here, he said in an interview, “The response has been, ‘That’s pretty pitiful.’ ”

The fight over the auto bailout shows the enduring power of the issue but also its complexities in a campaign that is about both the strength of the economy and the size and role of government.

The auto bailout was one of the first major moves of Mr. Obama’s presidency, and gave Mr. Romney an early chance in opposing it to prove his conservative credentials.

Mr. Romney has portrayed himself as an automobile maven. As he frequently says in his stump speeches, his father was credited with keeping American Motors in business during the 1950s and early 1960s. (The company, it happens, owned Jeep from 1970 to 1987.)

Before the incoming Obama administration was beginning to contemplate a bailout, Mr. Romney wrote an opinion article that he asked The New York Times to publish. The article carried the headline “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt”; in it, Mr. Romney wrote that in the event of a bailout, “you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye.”

The plan the administration settled on first helped Fiat buy Chrysler and then put both Chrysler and General Motors into managed bankruptcies as part of a program that brought total government assistance for Detroit to almost $80 billion between the Obama and Bush administrations. Coming as the Tea Party was beginning to form, it seemed like risky politics for Democrats being accused of taking big government to an extreme.

At the third and last debate last week in Boca Raton, Fla., Mr. Romney emphasized his position that “these companies need to go through a managed bankruptcy, and in that process they can get government help and government guarantees.”

Mr. Romney has stepped up his offense on the issue since.

So it was that he told those at the exuberant rally on Thursday in Defiance, “I saw a story today that one of the great manufacturers in this state, Jeep, now owned by the Italians, is thinking of moving all production to China.”

Mr. Romney was apparently referring to a Bloomberg News article that said Jeep would return to manufacturing in China that had been misinterpreted by several conservative blogs to mean Jeep was shifting its production to China; the company made clear in a statement that Chrysler was only resuming production in China for Chinese consumers, which it had done for years before halting in 2009 before its sale to Fiat.

Mr. Romney’s ad treads carefully, with an announcer saying Mr. Obama “sold Jeep to the Italians, who are going to build Jeeps in China” and the screen flashing, “Plans to return Jeep output to China.”

Calling it “blatant attempt to create a false impression,” former Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio, a Democrat, demanded Mr. Romney take it down on Monday. Stuart Stevens, a senior Romney adviser, disputed that the ad is misleading.

“Right now every Jeep built is built in America by an American and sold to the world,” he said. “Now instead of adding jobs in Toledo, they will be making Jeeps in China by the Chinese and selling them in China.”

Jeep began a joint manufacturing venture in China in 1984 and today makes some vehicles in Egypt and Venezuela. While it does produce cars for Chinese export here now, it has discussed returning some production to China since last year.

Jim Rutenberg reported from Toledo, and Jeremy W. Peters from New York. Richard A. Oppel Jr. contributed reporting from Sabina, Ohio.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/30/us/politics/gop-turns-fire-on-obama-pillar-auto-bailout.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Economix Blog: Counting the Underwater Homeowners

Analysts have been celebrating various pieces of good economic news, including an uptick in consumer spending. But the housing hangover is still raging.

At the end of the third quarter, 10.7 million homeowners owed more on their mortgages than their home is worth, according to new data from CoreLogic. That is down but a smidgen from the second quarter, when 10.9 million homeowners were underwater. But it is still more than one in every five mortgages.

Those homeowners may continue to pay their note, but those who suffer a shock like job loss or illness are at a high risk of foreclosure because they are unable to downsize by selling. Some conservative economists have suggested that the housing market be left to heal itself, while liberals and, increasingly, centrists have warned that failure to intervene will severely restrict the economy’s ability to grow.

The 200,000 decrease did not represent homeowners whose home values suddenly recovered, but people who lost their homes. They were easy to find in a report on household debt by the New York Federal Reserve, which found that 264,000 people had a foreclosure noted in their credit report in the third quarter. The total of seriously delinquent mortgages increased for the first time since the third quarter of 2009.

Underwater, or negative equity, mortgages continued to be heavily concentrated in certain states. For the first time, Georgia, with 30 percent of its mortgages underwater, edged out California for a place in the top five states. No. 1 was Nevada, with more than half its homeowners owing more than the value of their property. Still, outside the top five states, 17.6 percent of homeowners over all are in that predicament.

Forty-five percent of borrowers have less than 20 percent equity in their homes, and almost 70 percent of those mortgages carry interest rates above 5 percent, while the current average rate for a 30-year loan is closer to 4 percent. Recent changes to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s refinancing programs are supposed to make it easier for those homeowners, who number about 15 million, to lower their monthly payments.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=0f0d9f4190495ee9ebb0a616f0b46ce7

In Tech We Trust: Within the Industry, an Urge to Cash Out

“If you’ve seen the world blow up once, you just don’t know what’s going to happen a year from now,” said one former Facebook employee, referring to the dot-com crash a decade ago.

He joined the company in its early days, and left a few months ago so he could sell some of his shares. A company policy bars current employees from selling stock. “It seemed very risky to stay in a situation where all of your liquidity was tied up in what I consider a high-risk company,” he said, declining to make his name public when discussing a financial decision, and also because he did not want to upset Facebook.

He is hardly the only tech industry insider cashing in to minimize his financial risk in case the value of private companies starts heading south. Employees and investors at dozens of hot start-ups have sold hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of shares, fueling a booming market in private transactions.

Facebook has been driving the trend; last year, it accounted for nearly 45 percent of all the trades on SecondMarket, a leading marketplace for private company shares. Many of those trades came from Facebook’s first 200 or so employees who joined before the fall of 2007 and own shares or stock options. (Those who joined later received restricted stock, which cannot be sold until Facebook goes public.) According to several former employees, about 100 of the early employees have left the company, a figure Facebook declines to confirm.

And although they have left for many reasons — and Facebook insiders say that starting a new company is the most common one — guarding against a decline in share price has been a consideration for some.

“I was happy to sell 5 or 10 percent, so I could have a cushion in the worst-case scenario,” said another former Facebook employee who left in recent months, and who also would not make his name public.

Perhaps no company has seen its early investors and founders take so much money off the table so quickly as Groupon. The company is still losing money, but some insiders have already become rich on it. Out of $946 million that Groupon raised from investors last winter, $810 million went into the pockets of the chief executive, Andrew Mason; the chairman, Eric Lefkofsky; and others. In April 2010, many of the same insiders pocketed an additional $120 million.

Mr. Mason and Mr. Lefkofsky declined to comment, through a Groupon spokesman. The company, which recently filed to go public, is in a “quiet period” that restricts executives from discussing the business publicly.

Founders and early investors have sold shares in their start-ups for years, usually through brokers and a small network of funds specializing in private-company transactions. But such sales have expanded greatly in recent years, with early rank-and-file employees participating in deals in ever-growing numbers.

Employees have become more interested in selling, in part because companies are taking longer to go public. And workers’ eagerness to see tangible reward has promoted the creation of a number of businesses to serve their needs. These include trading platforms like SecondMarket, specialized brokers like Felix Investments and even a new lender who will help employees turn their paper wealth into hard cash without having to sell their shares.

“In the last two years, a lot of employees in the Valley woke up to this market,” said Hans Swildens, the founder and a managing partner at Industry Ventures, a decade-old company that has bought shares in companies like Facebook, Twitter, Chegg and eBags.

As Facebook’s valuation has soared past $50 billion, making it by far the highest among Silicon Valley’s crop of hot start-ups, many employees who own stock options and have been at the company since the early days after its founding seven years ago have been eager to profit.

Aware of that, Facebook has helped to broker sales for those employees twice — in 2009, when it allowed insiders to sell $100 million to Digital Sky Technologies, a Russian venture capital firm, and again this year, in a deal through T. Rowe Price, the investment firm. Employees were limited to selling up to 20 percent of their vested shares. For some, it wasn’t enough.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=98d8b414520e336ba0dd15b529a7e9d9

Strategies: Line Dancing With the Markets

NO one knows which way the world’s financial markets will move on any given day. No one can know.

But recently, one thing has been easy to predict. Whether the markets move up, down or sideways, they are likely to be moving together.

Last Wednesday offered a particularly telling example. It was a positive day for stocks. In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average rose half a percentage point. Markets in Brazil and Mexico climbed, too, along with those in France, Germany, Hong Kong and Tokyo. In fact, of the 18 leading equity markets tracked around the world by Bloomberg, 17 rose that day. The only exception was Spain, where the IBEX 35 declined — but by less than a tenth of a percentage point.

It’s as if the world’s markets have been responding to the baton of a mercurial but authoritarian maestro, who changes direction often, but insists that all orchestra members play together as one. And it’s not just stock markets that have been swinging in unison. To an extent rarely seen before, the bond, commodities and foreign exchange markets have been behaving like synchronized swimmers.

Why are markets so highly correlated? The answer may be found in “risk on, risk off,” a bit of jargon favored by financial traders and strategists. The phrase describes a simple, binary decision — whether to buy high-risk, high-return assets like stocks, or to move to a position of greater safety — that has come to the fore since the brutal financial shocks of 2008.

“We’re in a situation when there’s one dominant force — risk — driving all markets,” said Stacy Williams, an HSBC strategist in London. “Until people are convinced the global economic recovery is truly here to stay, this pattern is unlikely to really go away.”

Researchers at HSBC, working with scholars at Oxford University, have used statistical techniques to document that correlations rose across asset classes in the years before the crisis and surged in response to shocks like the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

“Various events during the financial crisis triggered the birth of the risk-on, risk-off paradigm,” an HSBC paper declared last August. Risk and the market’s response to it are the main factors explaining the rising correlations, the researchers found.

The implications are considerable, the report said: “In current market conditions, there is little point trying to understand the nuances between different asset classes, or the relative value within asset classes. Commodities behave like bonds, which behave like equities. They are no longer easily identifiable, uncorrelated trades.”

Furthermore, Mr. Williams said, close correlation of seemingly disparate assets implies that many portfolios may not be as diversified as we may think.

Other strategists have found similar patterns. UBS, the giant Swiss bank, for example, has developed its own Equity Risk Appetite Indicator, combining data from “credit, foreign exchange and equity markets,“ according to a recent report.

The risk appetite of global investors has swung dramatically of late, said Christopher Ferrarone, a UBS global equity strategist based in Stamford, Conn. In response to “geopolitical events and disasters” — the turmoil in the Middle East, a flare-up of the debt crisis in Europe, as well as the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan — risk aversion leapt during much of March, he said. But the appetite for risk revived in the week of March 21, and surged again last week.

The risk-on, risk-off mantra may help explain some other anomalies, said Eswar Prasad, an economics professor at Cornell University and co-author of the book “Emerging Markets: Resilience and Growth Amid Global Turmoil.” While the economies of emerging-market nations have grown more independent, their financial markets have been tightly synchronized with those of more developed nations, he said in a telephone interview from Nanjing, China, where he participated in a seminar on the international monetary system.

“Financial markets are supposed to be very helpful in diversifying risk, but the whole point is you want uncorrelated returns across markets,” he said. “If markets are more correlated now, it may be because people are trying to diversify by investing globally, but when there is a trigger event — when something nasty happens in the world — they sell assets across markets, and the usefulness of this entire diversification strategy must come into question.”

In a heavily annotated March market letter, James W. Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Wells Capital Management, scribbled “WOW” on a chart showing that correlations between commodity and stock prices had become “remarkably elevated.” Another chart showed similar links between those two asset classes and bonds.

In an interview, Mr. Paulsen said that while the current synchronization of disparate markets “is of greater magnitude and has been going on longer than in any period I’ve seen,” there were precedents.

“ ‘Risk on, risk off,’ it’s a new phrase,” he said, “but when you look back at, say, the period right after the ’87 stock market crash — that was risk on, risk off, baby. Risk was all anyone was thinking about.”

At the moment, he said, markets are still grappling with the “total obliteration of economic confidence in this country and in the world during the financial crisis.” He said we’ve gone from confidence levels “we’ve never registered before to levels you’d normally see in a recession.” How long it will take for fear to subside fully, he added, is anyone’s guess.

BUT Mr. Paulsen says he believes that an economic recovery is already well under way, and that the perception that this is a high-risk environment is mistaken. He advises a contrarian view: “People are already pricing things for a potential depression, so there’s a tremendous amount of protection in prices, and a tremendous upside,” he said. In fact, he added, it will be clear in hindsight that this was a time to embrace risk.

Investors can find many bargains in risk assets like stocks, he said, because their prices are still modest relative to the strong corporate earnings in the United States and abroad. “The dysfunction in the market — the high correlations — all of that is offering investors an opportunity rather than something to avoid,” he said. “Eventually this will all go away and that will be kind of sad, because it will mean these opportunities will be over.” 

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=400a56b2b70a8d1e373e46bcef85428c