BioWorld International Correspondent

PARIS - Neurotech SA concluded a partnership agreement with the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) under which it will collaborate with the institute's "cellular and molecular physiopathology of the retina" laboratory on a research program to discover therapeutic factors for delivery to the rear pole of the eye.

The INSERM laboratory will use its high-throughput functional screening technology to identify new genes that are expressed in the pigmented retinal epithelium and are associated with retinal pathologies. The new therapeutics would be delivered using Neurotech's Encapsulated Cell Technology (ECT), and the company will have exclusive rights for exploiting the fruits of the collaboration.

Neurotech in December reported positive results from a proof-of-concept study of ECT in the treatment of chronic eye diseases. The study tested the cell-based delivery of ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF) in animal models of retinitis pigmentosa, demonstrating that it slowed the progression of retinal degeneration. Neurotech has an exclusive license from Amgen Inc., of Thousand Oaks, Calif., for the development and commercialization of CNTF for local delivery in ophthalmology indications and is due to file an IND application for its CNTF delivery product, NT-501, in the U.S. soon.

Neurotech now focuses solely on ophthalmology, having abandoned in August its other research programs in the field of central nervous diseases. All its ophthalmological research and development takes place at the Lincoln, R.I., research facility of its American subsidiary, Neurotech USA Inc., which employs about 20 people.

In France, on the other hand, the company now comprises only three people, not counting a nonexecutive chairman. In January it moved its head office into the Quinze-Vingts hospital in Paris, which is specialized in eye diseases, having been based at the French biotechnology science and business park at Evry up to then.