BioWorld International Correspondent

MUNICH, Germany - Mtm laboratories AG signed a wide-ranging cooperation agreement with the European Molecular Biology Laboratory Enterprise Management (EMBLEM), the commercial arm of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL).

Under the terms of the agreement, Mtm will work with the EMBL on bioinformatics and molecular medicine, to identify in silico and clinically evaluate molecular marker candidates for both colorectal and lung cancer. The collaboration is funded by a grant from the German Ministry of Economics and will run at least two years.

"This was important to extend a collaboration that began back in 1999," Mtm CEO Peter Pack told BioWorld International. By collaborating with the EMBL, "we are able to work with some of the best oncologists in Germany." Pack also said the government grant will enable Mtm to expand current projects and to put more people on the work.

At present, EMBL does in silico analysis from its nucleotide and protein databases using algorithms developed in-house to evaluate certain pathways linked to the etiology of cancer. That gives insight into the transition from a normal cell to a precancerous one.

"Mtm takes markers from the in silico analysis and looks at the differences between normal and diseased tissues," Pack said. "Our company has built up expression profiles over the last three years, and through our agreements with area university hospitals we are able to do this work exclusively in human tissue. With the markers from the EMBL, we test for correlations in vivo."

Pack explained that Heidelberg-based Mtm is doing expression profiling at the transcript level, the protein level and the tissue level. "We are one of a few companies that excels at differential mass spectrometry, which is important at the protein level. We also have a rare combination of access to human tissues and tissue arrays," thanks to the company's cooperation with university hospitals. Those capabilities are part of the firm's competitive advantage, he said.

Further advantages come, Pack added, from Mtm's in-house medical expertise, which includes board-certified pathologists and medical doctors on staff. "We start with questions of medical need," he said.

The company also keeps other financial questions, such as which treatments will be reimbursed by insurers, public or private, firmly in mind. Paying for procedures to detect cancer in its early stages is "better accepted in the U.S., but not so advanced in Europe, particularly Germany," he said. "It takes a lot of data to convince the doctors here, but the advantages of early detection are becoming clearer."

Mtm's first product is for detecting cervical cancer, and Pack expects it to be available in Europe in mid-2003 and in the U.S. by mid-2004. The firm was founded in 1999. Pack attributes its relatively short time to bring a product to market to having medical needs at the center of product development. He added, "We keep clinicians involved from the earliest stage."