Taking aim at ion-channel research as a way of devising treatments for cardiovascular and neurological disorders are Amgen Inc. and UK-based BioFocus plc.

BioFocus will provide Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based Amgen with assay development, high-throughput screening, chemistry and molecular informatics, in exchange for research fees and milestone payments.

"They're not providing any numbers," said Sue Pemberton, spokeswoman for BioFocus. The company's officers could not be reached for comment, but investors apparently regarded its other news as more significant than the Amgen deal. As BioFocus disclosed the agreement, the firm alerted investors that sales pretax profits before goodwill amortization for 2002 will come in below expectations, and BioFocus' stock (LSE:BIO) fell 19.9 percent Monday, closing at 115 pence, down 28.5 pence.

BioFocus said sales will be about 7.5 percent below market expectations of £17 million (US$27.2 million) but 40 percent above the previous year's sales of £10.9 million. Pretax profit before goodwill amortization will be lower than the £3.4 million consensus, the company said.

Pemberton said the projected drop was "probably due to a delay in payment because of contracts not being closed prior to the year end." She added that UK "analysts are saying [the percentage dip in BioFocus' share price] was just a blip, since it was just a small volume of shares traded."

BioFocus, which offers medicinal chemistry capabilities to a variety of partners, has deals with Pfizer Inc., of New York; Millennium Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Cambridge, Mass.; GlaxoSmithKline plc, of London; and others.

Ion channels are glycoproteins that allow for the trafficking of charged small molecules through the cell membrane. Since ions function as messengers in the cell, poor function of their channels are believed to be implicated in various big-market diseases, including cardiac disorders, diabetes and epilepsy.

Barbara Bronson Gray, associate director of corporate communications for Amgen, said the matter of indications to be explored in the collaboration with BioFocus "hasn't been determined yet. It's a really early discovery program."

The research in general is early stage, she added. Among others working in the ion-channel field is a UK neighbor of BioFocus, CeNeS Pharmaceuticals plc, which in August 2002 spun out an ion-channel screening firm from its operations as part of a restructuring. Earlier, CeNeS had sold its ion channel-focused chemical library to Scion Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Medford, Mass.

Another oft-noted player in ion channels is Icagen Inc., of Research Triangle Park, N.C., which has a collaboration in atrial fibrillation with New York-based Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. In screening, Molecular Devices Corp. of Sunnyvale, Calif., provides high-throughput ion channel technology. Caliper Technology Corp., of Mountain View, Calif., is developing a cell-based ion channel assay, expected to launch next year.

Amgen Inc.'s stock (NASDAQ:AMGN) closed Monday at $51.52, up $1.08.