Looking to enhance its drug discovery platform, Quorex Pharmaceuticals Inc. acquired privately held Protein Vision Inc., a bioinformatics company with which Quorex has had an existing licensing arrangement.

"We wanted to have the availability of that technology not just for the specific area that we had licensed, but also to be able to use it more broadly as we see fit as the company progresses," said Gary Atkinson, Quorex's senior vice president and chief financial officer. "That technology is an instrumental part of our drug discovery process now, and has and will continue to help us discover drugs and bring them to the development stage much more rapidly than without that technology."

Financial terms were not disclosed, though Atkinson said Protein Vision's stake in Quorex is less than 2 percent. Protein Vision's president and founder, Adam Godzik, who has served as Quorex's director of bioinformatics through a consulting relationship, will continue in that capacity following the merger. Quorex and its 53 employees will add another Protein Vision employee to its staff, as well as a number of contract employees.

The acquisition is part of a growth initiative at Carlsbad, Calif.-based Quorex, which in July completed an additional $10.6 million extension to its Series B round that originally raised about $20 million in early 2001. Altogether, the privately held firm has raised about $33 million since its 1999 inception.

At the end of its most recent venture round, the company's valuation was estimated at just over $60 million.

Quorex is familiar with San Diego-based Protein Vision's bioinformatics technology. Through its exclusive license to Protein Vision's target identification and validation tools, Quorex has used the technology for its anti-infective applications. The Protein Vision technology is based on a series of algorithms that allow recognition and annotation of unknown genes and 3-dimensional modeling and functional analysis of the proteins they encode.

"We were very impressed with the power of the algorithms and the technology that they have available and the ability it gives us to much more efficiently identify and validate targets for our drug discovery efforts," Atkinson said. "Quorex is still focused on anti-infectives at this time, but we can see that this technology certainly has the power and ability to apply well beyond the area of anti-infective drug discovery."

Integrating the Protein Vision technology with Quorex's structure-based Accelerated Drug Discovery System improves Quorex's ability to identify and validate potential drug targets and to design small-molecule drug leads that act against those targets. The Quorex discovery system uses target and inhibitor co-crystal data to improve the potency and selectivity of early lead inhibitors.

Also, information gleaned from a combination of the Protein Vision technology and Quorex's expression-validation technologies, ProArray and Trigger, allows for identification, validation, characterization and prioritization of molecular targets in pathogens associated with chronic and acute bacterial diseases.

Its antibacterial program features two late-stage compounds in advanced drug discovery.

"They are broad-spectrum anti-infectives," Atkinson said. "We expect that we will be into the preclinical development process and complete that in 2003 with whichever of those compounds we determine is the more promising candidate."

He said Quorex would make such a determination by the end of the year, with the expectation of filing an investigational new drug application about a year later. Earlier-stage development projects at the company include a program in the area of biofilm formation. Atkinson said Quorex is seeking grant money to further such research. The company also has very preliminary work in an antifungal program.

Quorex's founders include current CEO Robert Robb and Chief Scientific Officer Jeffrey Stein, as well as a pair of professors, Bonnie Bassler at Princeton University and Michael Surrette at the University of Calgary.