Washington Editor

Senesco Technologies Inc. is negotiating an exclusive deal outside the U.S. that would generate $35 million for the New Brunswick, N.J.-based company.

The potential agreement is with the Tianjin Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Tianjin, China, and would require Senesco to transfer its technology that regulates the onset of cell death to the academy for use in fruit and vegetable crops.

Bruce Galton, Senesco's president and CEO, told BioWorld Today that while the parties have signed a letter of mutual intent, the deal is not expected to close for several months.

Financially, he said, Senesco stands to gain about $35 million in up-front fees upon the transfer of the technology, and potential royalties on future sales. Other payments would be made to Senesco over a multiyear period in conjunction with training and support provided by the company as well as after the first harvest of selected crop varieties.

"Obviously, this an important agreement where we will be able to work with another group of researchers to effect positive changes in a wide variety of crops for the benefit of the food supply in China," Galton said. "[And] the financial impact on our company is large."

He said Senesco's technology is based around two regulatory genes that control cell death in plants and mammalian cells. "They are basically the genes that get switched on when a cell is ready to die, so by regulating the expression of the proteins from these cells, we can control cell death in plants. And by doing that, we can extend the shelf life of post-harvest fruits and vegetables, help plants grow faster, [and] make them resistant to drought or soil solidity," he said.

Founded in 1998, Senesco gets is name from senescence, the scientific term for the aging of cells. The company is working to use its technology for therapeutic advancements in the health care industry and for the enhancement of agriculture products.

From a medical standpoint, Senesco has started research for the development of drug targets for diseases caused by abnormal apoptosis (programmed cell death in humans), and for the development of a screening assay system, as well as for gene therapies that target the symptoms of disease caused by abnormal apoptosis.

Meanwhile, on the agriculture side, the technology could help products stay fresh, enhance the seed yield and provide resistance to environmental stress.

Because the company's technology regulates genes that are present in all organisms, "there is no biological modification necessary, like the sort that has generated controversy with other technologies, through the addition of foreign genetic material," the company said.

Galton said Senesco has several other corporate arrangements, including a lettuce and melon deal with Harris Moran Seed Co., of Modesto, Calif.; an agreement with Cal/West Seeds, of Woodland, Calif., to enhance proprietary alfalfa varieties being developed by Cal/West; a collaboration with ArborGen LLC, of New Zealand, for the enhancement of forestry products; and a joint venture with Rahan Meristem Ltd., of Israel, for banana plants.

In a recent announcement, the company said its patent-pending gene, apoptosis eucaryotic initiation Factor 5A, is expressed in heart tissue from ischemic and non-ischemic patients who have undergone surgery.

Senesco's stock (AMEX:SNT) closed Tuesday at $2.40, up 45 cents, or 23 percent.