National Editor

NeoGenesis Pharmaceuticals Inc.'s fast screening capability and hefty compound library bagged the firm yet another deal, this one with AstraZeneca plc to discover small molecules across a broad range of targets.

"I think we've transitioned beyond a tools company, at this point," said Henry Skinner, president and CEO of Cambridge, Mass.-based NeoGenesis, pointing to the collaborative nature of recent deals. "We're a drug development company."

Included in the arrangement with London-based AstraZeneca are oncology, infection and cardiovascular disorders, along with diseases of the central nervous system and inflammatory ailments.

Terms were not disclosed, but Skinner said NeoGenesis has signed other, similar deals based on its Automated Ligand Identification System (ALIS) platform and NeoMorph compound libraries.

In 2002, a multiyear collaboration with Peapack, N.J.-based Pharmacia Corp. (later bought by Pfizer Inc.) was established to discover and develop drugs that target undisclosed disorders, and another was inked with Aventis Pharma AG, of Frankfurt, Germany, for infectious diseases. (See BioWorld Today, Feb. 15, 2002, and Aug. 1, 2002.)

"They're in the same general landscape [as the AstraZeneca deal], from the standpoint of scope of the work," Skinner told BioWorld Today, although none are identical.

NeoGenesis boasts that its ALIS workstations are capable of screening 12 proteins per year against the company's entire library of small molecules at a rate of about 300,000 compounds per day, identifying drug candidates without previous knowledge of protein function, as well as finding small molecules that bind to both soluble and membrane proteins. The library is made up of more than 10 million medicinally relevant and novel molecules formulated in mixtures.

Others making use of privately held NeoGenesis' technologies since its inception in 1997 include Schering-Plough Corp., of Madison, N.J.; Merck & Co Inc., of Whitehouse Station, N.J.; Tularik Inc., of South San Francisco; Biogen Idec Inc., also of Cambridge; Celltech Group plc, of Slough, UK; Oxford GlycoSciences plc (bought by Celltech), of Oxford, UK; and Immusol Inc., of San Diego.

Late last year, a deal begun in 2001 with Research Triangle Park, N.C.-based Tranzyme Inc. was expanded to include more genes. NeoGenesis is using Tranzyme's Tranz Expression Technology in support of its chemical genomics program. (See BioWorld Today, Aug. 29, 2001.)

Such deals will continue to be the near-term strategy, Skinner said, but the company aims to move even more toward drug development, working on internal programs with an eye to partnering around the Phase I stage.

"It's a question of time," Skinner said. "Looking out far enough, we would certainly desire to be [at Phase I], but it's going to depend on the business opportunity. Part of the decision as to when these would be partnered will depend on the therapeutic area. We anticipate being flexible on a number of fronts."