BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - Oxford Genome Sciences Ltd. (OGeS) announced the first major contract since its formation last year from the remnants of Oxford GlycoSciences plc's flagship proteomics business.

In the collaboration, with the Bayer HealthCare Diagnostics Division in Tarrytown, N.Y., OGeS will apply its proteomics technologies to validate breast cancer biomarkers discovered by Bayer. Financial details were not disclosed, but Bayer Diagnostics will fund the program and make milestone payments.

"The aim is to prioritize candidate [biomarkers] to find proteins that are present in the blood," Christian Rohlff, founding CEO of OGeS, told BioWorld International. "These will be used for both diagnostic and prognostic purposes. For women who have breast cancer they could indicate fast or slow progression, or if the [cancer] will respond to particular treatments."

Rohlff said the company hopes to use the collaboration as a basis to develop techniques that then could be applied to evaluating biomarkers in other cancers and disease areas.

Interest in biomarkers is rising, not only for their diagnostic and prognostic power, but also as a means of assessing efficacy in clinical trials and in the development of personalized medicine. "This attention is relatively recent, but we have been in biomarkers for a long time, building our expertise over seven years, " Rohlff said.

OGeS claims ownership of the largest proteomics database in the world, the Oxford Genome Anatomy Project, which now contains more than 1 million peptide sequences from 50 different tissues involved in 60 diseases. Those sequences have been mapped onto 15,000 human genes, integrated with the entire genome and 5 million single nucleotide polymorphisms.

"This is the key strength of our approach: We can integrate and harmonize proteomics with genomics. You only get at the value of these [technologies] when you combine the data sets," Rohlff said.

The deal with Bayer Diagnostics is a significant endorsement for OGeS in its aim of re-establishing the business model of the OGS proteomics unit from which it evolved. Celltech Group plc closed the unit at the end of 2003 after a six-month search failed to find a buyer following Celltech's acquisition of OGS in May 2003.

At the time Rohlff tried to stage a management buyout, but could not reach agreement with Celltech. He subsequently set up OGeS, and backed by private funding, acquired technology and licenses from Celltech, completing the deal in April 2004. In August, OGeS raised an undisclosed sum from the South East Growth Fund, and is due to disclose further funding later this week.

Rohlff said that OGeS initially will concentrate on developing the services side of the business. "It's too early to have our own discovery and development effort, though as the company matures that may change. For now we will focus on the need that has clearly arisen for pharma companies to get involved in biomarkers."