Washington Editor

Genentech Inc. signed a multiyear collaboration with Phenomix Corp. to identify and prioritize drug targets for immune disorders.

Specific financial details were not disclosed. However, Phenomix will receive an up-front payment, research funding and is entitled to milestone payments on products emerging from the collaboration developed and commercialized by South San Francisco-based Genentech. Genentech also will make an undisclosed equity investment in Phenomix.

Meanwhile, Genentech would own exclusive worldwide rights to research, develop, manufacture and commercialize therapeutics that might be useful for the treatment of immune disorders. Phenomix would retain rights to develop products based on certain targets discovered in the course of the collaboration.

In an interview with BioWorld Today, Laura Shawver, president and CEO of San Diego-based Phenomix, characterized Genentech as a company based on solid science. "We are thrilled because our technology really parachutes one into the causative drivers of a disease, so we think we have the basis for a beautiful collaboration," she said.

Phenomix, a privately held firm that uses whole-animal technology, focuses on "forward genetics" - that is, introducing sequence variation into the genome.

"We start out in a disease background, introduce sequence variation and ask, What cures the mouse?'" she said. "Then, we can discover proteins that, when altered, have an impact on a disease phenotype, and we can discover drugs against those proteins."

The company also uses its whole-animal approach to create effective therapeutics and to design clinical trials.

Although little more than two years old, Phenomix has its own early stage pipeline filled with programs for diabetes, anti-inflammatory diseases, cancer, cholesterol and transplantation indications.

Among the lead candidates, the firm has preclinical programs in Type II diabetes and in anti-inflammatory diseases. The latter is the subject of a collaboration signed last fall with Plexxikon Inc., of Berkeley, Calif.

Under that deal, the partners will jointly develop a series of new compounds that inhibit c-Kit, a gene target in the protein kinase family. Plexxikon will apply its Scaffold-Based Drug Discovery platform to develop the small molecules, and Phenomix will evaluate potential leads for early demonstration of in vivo efficacy, pharmacology, preclinical analysis and compound re-profiling.

Phenomix and Plexxikon are getting close to selecting a candidate to take forward in the deal, Shawver said, adding that the companies likely would seek a development partner.

In other business, Shawver said Phenomix expects to complete a Series B financing for $35 million to $40 million by late 2004 or early 2005.

Since its February 2002 inception, the firm has raised about $25 million. (See BioWorld Today, March 13, 2002, and Oct. 15, 2003.)

Phenomix was founded by scientists from the Australian National University in Canberra; Baylor College of Medicine in Houston; and the Genomics Institute of Novartis Research Corp., of San Diego.

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