Washington Editor

Panacea Pharmaceuticals Inc. formed a wholly owned subsidiary to develop and commercialize in vitro diagnostics, including pharmacogenomic and pharmacoproteomic tools for cancer detection, diagnosis, prognosis, treatment selection and follow-up.

Located in Gaithersburg, Md., Panacea, a company founded in 1999, works in functional genomics and proteomics to develop therapeutics and diagnostics. In product development, the company's focus is on proteins and biochemical pathways related to cellular regulation and cell cycle abnormalities in oncology and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.

The new subsidiary, Proteus Diagnostics Inc., will work on products based on the enzyme human aspartyl (asparaginyl) beta-hydroxylase, or HAAH. Panacea obtained exclusive worldwide rights to all therapeutic and diagnostic uses of HAAH via an agreement with Rhode Island Hospital/Brown University in Providence, R.I., in September 1999.

While no one at Panacea could be reached for comment, Kasra Ghanbari, the company president, released a prepared statement saying, "The large number of cancers that overexpress HAAH, the large proportion of cancer cases in which HAAH is detected, and the robustness of the diagnostic methods we are developing create a virtually unique opportunity to build an integrated cancer diagnostic platform that addresses many components of the lifecycle of disease management in oncology."

Of Proteus's work, Ghanbari said, "Proteus intends to maintain a tight focus on taking a single family of products based on a common underlying technology from proof of principle through regulatory approval and commercialization."

According to Panacea's research, HAAH overexpression has been found in 99 percent of 1,000 human tumor specimens from 18 cancers, including lung, liver and colon. However, it is not detected in normal or unaffected adjacent tissues.

Panacea said studies indicate that overexpression of HAAH induces cellular transformation, increases cell motility and invasiveness and causes tumor formation in experimental animals. Even partial inhibition of HAAH expression by antisense or antibodies appears to have a beneficial effect on tumor cells both in vitro and in vivo, the company said.

Panacea, a privately held company, has raised money in two financings. The first generated an undisclosed sum and the second generated about $3 million.

The company also has received two Phase I Small Business Innovation Research grants from the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.

Last year Panacea entered a collaboration and licensing agreement surrounding HAAH technology with Gaithersburg-based MedImmune Inc. Under the deal, MedImmune received licenses to therapeutic products directed against HAAH, while Panacea retained rights to the diagnostic applications of HAAH. (See BioWorld Today, April 22, 2002.)