BioWorld International Correspondent

ZICHRON YA'AKOV, Israel - Kirin Brewery Company Ltd. will invest an initial US$5 million in a joint venture with Algen Biopharmaceuticals, a Jerusalem-based start-up company established in 2000 by Yissum, the research development company of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Algen was founded based on Hebrew University biochemistry professor Alex Levitzki's discoveries on how to "trick" cancer cells into activating the protein PKR in cancer cells without activating it in normal cells, and thus fine-tuning selective cell death.

Kirin, of Tokyo, will invest in the joint venture over a five-year period, in exchange for rights to commercialize the technology.

Yissum and Hadasit, the research development company of Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem, will run the new joint venture to test novel tyrosine kinase blockers, tyrphostins, compounds developed by Levitzki as agents in suppressing immune rejection of grafts, donated organs and especially bone marrow transplants used in cancer therapies.

Levitzki, chief scientist at Algen, said the alliance with Kirin was an "important part of Algen's activity," a company whose "technologies and compound libraries can be applied to a number of fields in medicine and drug development." He referred to new research showing that tyrphostins not only target cancer cells but also are key in signaling pathways leading to rejection. Earlier, Levitzki had demonstrated tyrphostin activity against restenosis and also in treating various cancers. (See BioWorld International, May 13, 1998.)

Hadasit CEO Raphael Hofstein, together with Hadassah professor of immunology Shimon Slavin, head of Hadassah's Bone Marrow Transplantation Unit, initiated the connection with Kirin.

Slavin, the chief scientist of the project, said Kirin also will test some of its own compounds. "We are pleased about this promising collaboration, which marks another level in a multistage scientific interaction established some years ago between the Japanese and Israeli teams," Slavin said.

Levitzki told BioWorld International the collaboration with Slavin would be testing novel platforms in a previously unexplored direction, uniting their independent advances in combinatorial chemistry and immunology to improve selective immune rejection of cancer cells while sparing normal cells introduced during bone marrow transplantation, thus preventing graft-vs.-host disease.

Hofstein said that the success of the venture naturally will depend on the final research results, but "in light of the present global biotechnology industry, the strategic cooperation is a significant event" which could "lead to further collaborative relationships."

Kirin's proprietary recombinant ESPO (epoetin alfa), a hormone-regulating red blood cell product, and GRAN (filgrastim), an agent stimulating white blood cell production, have annual sales of about US$400 million in Asia. In addition, Kirin sells the CliniMACS System for separation and purification of specific cells critical to blood transplants in China and Korea.