National Editor

Who says the genomics sector is flat?

Well, practically everybody does, but that didn't stop NaPro BioTherapeutics Inc. from buying privately held Pangene Corp.'s genomics business for an undisclosed sum.

"It's a nice match from a value-chain standpoint," said Jeffrey White, president of NaPro's genomics division. "We're adding to what we've been able to do."

The deal will take NaPro, which has therapeutic compounds in the preclinical stages for sickle-cell anemia and Huntington's disease, further into systems biology, he said.

"You can have a great technology, but if you don't understand how it's working in the overall system, you may be chasing a rainbow" - a claim that some investors lately have made about the genomics sector in general, he acknowledged.

Fremont, Calif.-based Pangene's automated, high-throughput GeneGin Cloning System will let NaPro isolate and clone full-length cDNA genes without using the customary gene library screening techniques.

"This is the kind of platform that doesn't come along that often," White said.

The patented GeneGin procedure is said to enrich the target gene clones from any DNA library, working with targets that have up to 35 percent heterology, which allows for the isolation of interspecies genes, gene family members and alternative splice forms.

NaPro, of Boulder, Colo., is adding the capability from Pangene to its own patent-pending Gene Editing technology, which creates single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) or haplotypes in any gene of interest that is specifically designed in artificial chromosomes, so researchers can order "custom-designed" genes modified at the single base pair level and make specific isogenic SNP panels of interest for functional assays.

Gene Editing also lets scientists create specific genes ready for transfer into specific cell lines or animal models, using them for target validation and assays testing drug safety and efficacy.

"It's a natural progression," White said of the Pangene purchase. "We create the SNP panels on genes, and now we'll be able to provide a front-end to that, so you can isolate your gene of interest."

NaPro's stock (NASDAQ:NPRO) closed Monday at 46 cents, down 3 cents. The company's 52-week high is $11.70.

"I wish I could give you a logical reason for the pressure on the stock," White said, noting the slide has not been as a result of failure to meet milestone promises to investors.

"We've hit those the last three or four quarters in a row," he said.

In May, NaPro and Abbott Laboratories, of Abbott Park, Ill., won FDA approval to market paclitaxel injection. Through a cross-license agreement last year with New York-based Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., NaPro and Abbott have access to the U.S. market for paclitaxel injection, which is equivalent to Bristol-Myers' Taxol, for metastatic ovarian cancer after first-line or subsequent chemotherapies fail, and for metastatic breast cancer after the failure of combination chemotherapy for metastatic disease.

"A lot of the services we have came about in developing therapeutics, and now we've started taking them to the outside world," White told BioWorld Today. "We wanted to make sure we had robust capabilities before we touted publicly what we can do. We said, Let's get our technology out there, capture the value but not lose sight of the Holy Grail or the home run.'"

The home-run grail, of course, is another marketed drug, and White said NaPro expects to file investigational new drug applications for its preclinical compounds next year.

The deal with Pangene is "not our last one, but it's our biggest one," he said. "We're just starting to get traction."