BioWorld International Correspondent

AngioGenetics AB entered an agreement with the Tumor Biology Center Freiburg (TBCF) to find new uses for old drugs.

Gothenburg, Sweden-based AngioGenetics acquired the rights to a screen of hundreds of known drugs performed by the TBCF, a research hospital affiliated with the University of Freiburg in Germany. AngioGenetics hopes to develop angiogenesis-modulating treatments for cancer, ischemic heart disease and eye disease.

The underlying screening platform, called Spherogenex, was developed by Hellmut Augustin, head of vascular biology and angiogenesis research at the TBCF. It is designed to elicit unidentified angiogenesis-related effects of drugs and drug-like molecules on vascular tissue. It is based on culturing umbilical venous cells in 3-dimensional spheroids, which, AngioGenetics CEO Mattias Kalén said, offer a better alternative to plastic surfaces for studying the formation and growth of new blood vessels.

"They sprout in a more in vivo-like environment," he told BioWorld International. "The assay can measure both pro- and anti-angiogenic effects."

The partners already are sifting through the screening data to find candidates to take into preclinical validation studies.

"We have moved from 880 drugs, and we are currently down to 56," Kalén said. The majority comprises marketed drugs, although a small number are still undergoing clinical trials.

As the company is dealing with known molecular entities, it will have a head start in terms of basic pharmacokinetic and toxicity data and would be able to take candidates directly into Phase II trials.

"A drug, which has already been used for one indication, can be use-patented' for another indication," Kalén said. "You basically have to show that you have a unique idea in terms of the use of the known chemistry." The company expects to move its first candidates into the clinic by 2006, either on a solo basis or in partnership with existing patent holders or manufacturers.

AngioGenetics, which was established in June 2001 as a spinout from Gothenburg University and the Stockholm-based Karolinska Institute, has established a database containing more than 90 percent of all genes expressed in vascular tissue, Kalén said, and a transcriptional profiling platform to enable it to home in on those that are selectively expressed in that environment.

It has two other research and development programs under way. It is performing validation studies on gene targets originally identified in a study of angiogenesis regulation undertaken with Discovery Genomics Inc., of Minneapolis, two years ago.

"The pilot we did with Discovery Genomics was very successful - we were both surprised by the power of the platforms," Kalén said. Separately, it identified a novel - and apparently druggable - target in the hypoxia-signaling pathway, which plays a central role in triggering angiogenesis in solid tumors.

AngioGenetics raised €3.4 million in its first financing round from Scandinavian Life Science Venture and the Karolinska Investment Fund in September 2001. It is seeking an additional €11 million, Kalén said.