Scynexis Inc. entered into a research collaboration with F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd. to discover and develop compounds for central nervous system and metabolic diseases.

Specific financial terms were not disclosed, but Roche will receive exclusive worldwide rights to resulting products in exchange for up-front technology access fees and other compensation for services from the Research Triangle Park, N.C.-based firm.

"It's one of the biggest agreements we've ever done," said Terry Marquardt, Scynexis' director of business development. "It involves putting together large libraries, and then doing the lead-optimization work on the resulting clinical candidate compounds. It doesn't have a specific time frame - we'll keep going until we get something."

The agreement provides Basel, Switzerland-based Roche access to Scynexis' Medchem-Factory technology and HEOS (Hit Explorer Operating System) software. The combination of the technology is designed to speed the identification of leads against Roche's drug targets.

"The Medchem-Factory is an integrated system of instrumentation that produces compounds from synthesis on through to purification and analysis," Marquardt said. "And it processes these compounds in very high volumes - we can produce 1,000 compounds per day."

The HEOS software runs the instruments, collects data and reports on compounds produced to Scynexis' customers.

"No matter where they're located in the world, they can monitor and watch their compounds being produced, and also provide input and select compounds," Marquardt said.

Founded about a year and a half ago, Scynexis has grown through a number of development deals.

In June, Scynexis entered into a notable deal with Merck & Co. Inc. to discover and develop anti-infective compounds. The multiyear collaboration provides Scynexis with milestone payments as products are developed and royalties on resulting product sales, while Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based Merck retains exclusive worldwide rights to products developed through the collaboration. (See BioWorld Today, June 27, 2002.)

In another deal entered into earlier this year, with Berkeley, Calif.-based Plexxikon Inc., Scynexis is involved in lead discovery work through its bioinformatics tools, high-throughput co-complexing of ligands with proteins, large-scale protein production, high-throughput co-crystallization, use of surrogate proteins and in silico methods, and automated co-structure determination. (See BioWorld Today, March 14, 2002.)

While Scynexis offers a fair share of drug development services, it has begun internal development as well, fueled by steady growth throughout the company. Marquardt said the company's own discovery program is under way, though he declined to specify therapeutic areas Scynexis compounds would address.

Nevertheless, growth beyond its development service business is undeniable. In June, Scynexis completed a $29 million round of financing, adding to $15 million closed in its first round of funding a year ago.

Personnel growth, up from 24 at its outset to about 100 today, shows no signs of slowing down, either. A year ago Scynexis opened its UK operations in Cambridge, and Marquardt said the company would double its personnel in the next year.

"We're expanding pretty rapidly, and we're optimistic about the future," he said.

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