Washington Editor

Discovery Partners International Inc. won a multiyear contract worth up $24 million from the National Institutes of Health to set up and maintain a small-molecule repository as part of the government's "roadmap" for medical research in the 21st century.

The repository will provide public-sector biomedical researchers access to hundreds of thousands of small organic molecules, which can be used as chemical probes to study cellular pathways in greater depth. Indeed, the project is part of a plan devised to accelerate medical research progress in drug discovery.

Established by NIH Director Elias Zerhouni and his staff, the roadmap is an outgrowth of the Human Genome Project. It focuses on new pathways to discovery, research teams of the future and re-engineering the clinical research enterprise.

Riccardo Pigliucci, Discovery Partners' (DPI) chairman and CEO, said his firm won the contract because DPI is one of a few companies with an understanding of what it means to manage millions of compounds.

DPI, a San Diego-based firm, sells tools and services to support the drug discovery and development processes. Specifically, the company offers services like target characterization, targeted and screening library design and synthesis, high-throughput and high-content screening, lead generation and optimization, gene-expression analysis and protein crystallization.

"We are in the business of doing high-throughput screening, and we have our own collection of about a million compounds," Pigliucci told BioWorld Today. "We have the capability both on the chemistry side and the logistics side, as well as in purifying, analyzing, replenishing the collection and obviously the ability to help coordinate - a major job in the contract - which kinds of compounds are going to be procured for development both internally or in the commercial world."

The contract runs through December 2008 and carries an option to extend, provided funds are available. Pigliucci expects the project to make up about 10 percent of the firm's annual revenues. DPI revenues for 2003 totaled $50 million, he said.

The repository will be located at DPI's chemistry division in San Francisco.

Meanwhile, DPI has had marked successes in partnerships with firms like Pfizer Inc., of New York.

Earlier this year, the partners extended an agreement originally signed in 2001, calling for DPI to deliver to Pfizer a range of pharmaceutically relevant chemical compounds for Pfizer's exclusive use. The deal gave Pfizer access to DPI's capability to prepare and deliver follow-up libraries that are designed using the results of Pfizer's high-throughput screening.

From Jan. 1, 2002, to Dec. 31, 2003, about $48 million of DPI's revenue was obtained from Pfizer. As a result of the renewed contract signed in February, revenue from Pfizer over the next two years is expected to be at least $43 million to $46 million with at least 50 percent of that in 2004.

DPI's stock (NASDAQ:DPII) was up 14 cents Monday to close at $4.44.

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